Smiles, screams of laughter and splashes soak the pool deck at the New Tampa Family YMCA (located off Compton Dr. in Tampa Palms) on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. In Florida, we’re technically always surrounded by water, and the ability to swim is something some Floridians take for granted.
However, some kids don’t get the chance to learn how to swim when they’re growing up. For that reason, the New Tampa YMCA has once again teamed up with the University Area Community Development Center (UACDC, located on N. 22 St., about two miles south of Tampa Palms) to give free swimming lessons to kids this summer.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, about ten people die each day, nationwide, from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children age 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the U.S. Unintentional death in a motor vehicle accident is first.
As part of the UACDC’s “DreamCatchers” summer program, children ages 6-12 get to take part in swimming lessons at the New Tampa YMCA twice per week, where they learn the basics for getting around in the water, especially safety and drowning-prevention skills.
Following last year’s success, New Tampa YMCA executive director Monica Mirza said that the two organizations decided to expand the program this summer.
“We’re excited to be able to give kids the opportunity to learn more about water safety, drowning prevention and be able to have fun in the water,” Mirza explained. “This year, we’re able to accommodate more kids. (UACDC) increased their camp size to 60 kids, so we’re accommodating all 60 for swim lessons.”
“We get to give them the opportunity to have more fun over the summer, to experience the water and, hopefully, teach all the kids how to swim,” Mirza explained.
“The more time they get in the water, the more comfortable they’ll get with their new skills,” said New Tampa YMCA aquatics director Noel Russell.
Mirza added that, since most of the University area is within four miles of the New Tampa YMCA, the organization wanted to be able to provide a resource that isn’t available at the 50,000-sq.-ft. Development Center, which was founded by current Dist. 2 Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist (who also represents New Tampa).
“The kids (who use the center) don’t all have access to a pool, but there are a lot of retention ponds, so they’re at risk (for drowning),” Mirza said.
DreamCatcher counselor Delora Holcomb watched as her campers learned to scoop water with their hands while swimming. She explained that, in addition to swimming, the kids also take part in tutoring, games, arts & crafts, dance classes and music lessons to keep them busy throughout the summer.
Holcomb said that she works as a school social worker during the school year and spent time working with students at UACDC. She said she heard that the Center was hiring counselors and decided she wanted to help.
“It’s good that the YMCA has this partnership with (UACDC) because I feel like swimming lessons are an opportunity that our students wouldn’t have on their own,” Holcomb explained. “It’s really cool that the kids are able to come out and take part in this, especially because we’re in Florida, with all of the pools and beaches.”
Ronnie Oliver, director of development for UACDC, said he’s also excited to be in the second year of the partnership and hopes to continue the annual swimming lessons program.
“The kids love it,” Oliver said. “And, the parents are even more excited than the kids because their children are learning how to swim. Up in the University area, we have a lot of retention ponds and at a lot of the apartment complexes, there aren’t lifeguards on duty (at the pools). Now that the kids are learning how to swim, parents can be more comfortable with letting their kids go out to a pool.
DreamCatcher camper Jade, age 11, said that this wasn’t her first time in the water, but that she still was learning a lot, especially about kicking and floating. She said she’s looking forward to doing a lot more swimming this summer.
“The best part is jumping into the water,” Jade said.
For other campers learning to float, she even has some advice.
“Try to keep your legs straight and your feet pointed like a ballerina,” Jade said.
Oliver said that he’s looking forward to continuing to provide the opportunity to learn to swim to USF-area kids for years to come.
“We want to keep the partnership going,” he said. “I hope next year we can bring more kids. It’s all about having fun.”
The New Tampa YMCA also offers numerous other swimming programs, including group and private swimming lessons for kids of all ages.
For more info about the New Tampa Family YMCA and its other aquatics programs, please visit TampaYMCA.org.
For more info about the UACDC, please visit UACDC.org.