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Community Voices: Helping children learn to be safe around water

Catherine Mitchell



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As part of the YMCA’s commitment to reduce drowning rates and keep kids safe in and around the water, the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg will provide scholarships for swim instruction and water safety to children from underserved communities in St. Petersburg.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1-14. In ethnically diverse communities, the youth drowning rate is two to three times higher than the national average, according to a USA Swimming study. Additionally, 64 percent of African-American children, 45 percent of Latino children and 40 percent of Caucasian children have no or low swimming ability.

“Educating children how to be safe around water is just as important as teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street,” said Sidney Newfield, Aquatics Director, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. “The Y teaches children of all ages and backgrounds that water should be fun, not feared. This practice not only saves lives, it builds confidence.”

The Y believes this is especially true following 2020’s Covid-19 shutdowns. “We know there are children in our community who are now more at risk due to the need to maintain social distancing in 2020, and we want to make every effort we can to reach those kids this year,” Newfield said.

In order to maintain a safe and healthy environment while Covid-19 is still present, the Y has implemented enhanced safety protocols, including social distancing within the pool itself, and requires all staff and volunteers to wear masks.

In addition to learning lifesaving water safety skills, children can increase their physical activity by swimming. Swimming also motivates children to strive for self-improvement, teaches goal orientation and cultivates a positive mental attitude and high self-esteem. It also teaches life lessons of sport and sportsmanship, so that children can learn how to work well with teammates and coaches and how to deal with winning and losing – skills that last a lifetime.

To learn how to qualify for financial assistance, please call (727) 895-9622 and press 1 to speak with a representative at the Jim & Heather Gills YMCA.

The Y has been a leader in providing swim lessons and water safety for nearly 100 years. The YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg continues to help youth and adults experience the joy and benefits of swimming, so they can be healthy, confident and secure in the water. There are a variety of programs to choose, from swim lessons to swim team workouts to water fitness classes like Water Aerobics or Aqua Zumba®.

Visit for a complete listing of offerings.

Catherine Mitchell is Vice President of Marketing and Communications, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg.


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