Pool School

Gulf Coast

BY MARK PRITCHETT SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY JUL 16, 2016

Summertime, and the swimming is easy. If you know how.

Believe it or not, many kids in our pool-filled, Gulf-side community don’t get the opportunity to properly learn how to swim. That means they lack basic water-safety skills and understanding: What do you do if you fall into a pool? Or get too deep while wading in the Gulf?

These children may also lack the confidence that comes with that knowledge. Just think how many children’s parties these days involve a swimming pool, splash park or beach visit. Now think about that seven-year-old who can’t swim, watching the rest of his friends from the pool deck. Or worse, who ignores that fact and jumps in anyway.

Thanks to some generous philanthropists, including Keith and Linda Monda and the Gould Family Foundation, over 3,000 second graders in Sarasota and Charlotte counties participated in a week’s worth of free swimming lessons this past school year. And it wasn’t simply splash time out of the classroom—although it was a blast for the students (especially the ones who made their teachers get into the pool on the final day). These children received daily lessons over five straight days from a certified swim instructor.

The program is called Kids SWIM, which stands for Safe Water Instruction Matters. Gulf Coast helped launch it in 2013 with funding from the Mondas, who had learned about the imminent closure of a long time swim-lesson program for kids in north Sarasota. They said, “We want to help save this program, but we’d like to see it go countywide.” So we—really, Veronica Brady—connected the dots: school district, local nonprofits that serve children and YMCAs with pools and swim instructors.

The Mondas seeded a fund at Gulf Coast to pay for student transportation to partner pool sites and for pool and instructor time. Several community members, including organizations like the Florida Swimming Pool Association, contributed, too. And the school district and other partners leaped in (safely of course), seeing a wonderful opportunity to leverage this philanthropy for the good of our local youth.

Since then, the program has taught more than 6,000 youngsters how to handle themselves in and around the water. It has flowed from five to more than 20 Sarasota County elementary schools, and this year expanded to Charlotte County public elementary schools as well (thanks to the Gould Family Foundation). As one Charlotte second grader said with childlike candor before her first session, “I am not a good swimmer and I don’t want to be left behind.” Now she won’t be.

Recently, we also heard from another young swimmer named Gavin. He sent us a wonderful handwritten thank-you note, complete with drawings of three happy stick children swimming confidently amid colorful sea life. Gavin’s note said, “You people are awesome!!!! I love you very, very, very, very much! I learned how to go under the water without holding my nose!!” Reading it gave me goosebumps faster than a January dip in the Gulf.

The only thing I’d add to Gavin’s sweet note is that the truly “awesome” people are the donors who fund opportunities like this and the hardworking nonprofit staffers who execute them. They’re the ones who deserve our thanks. And we love them very, very, very, very much too.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation used to swim two miles during his lunch break five days a week while working at the University of Kentucky.

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