Supplement Feature - February 2012
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Dive in for Healthier Bodies & Minds

Wellness Programming for Aquatic Facilities

By Julie Knudson

Water safety is among Christianburg's priorities for children of all ages, especially as the kids regularly swim in local lakes and creeks, but connecting with older students and area teens continues to be a difficult prospect, said Terry Caldwell, AFO, the Center's director of aquatics. "Advertising to actually get the word out to them is a challenge, I think."

She added that the quality of any aquatic facility's programming originates from strong community involvement. Her team "realized very quickly that not only did we need to be a customer service facility, but we needed to listen to every single voice." She believes that individual feedback is paramount to identifying key needs within the community, and said, "Everyone has a voice here. Here at the Aquatic Center, that one person stands tall."

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) in Greenbelt, Md., oversees 11 aquatic facilities, all within Prince George's County. Tara Eggleston, countywide aquatics coordinator, said that developing a diverse set of programs, particularly those related to health and fitness, has helped generate and sustain community engagement. "Clients have different interests in participating in aquatics, so we offer general recreation play, water fitness programs, and we even offer water fitness programs to youth and teens."

Pointing to the problem of childhood obesity, she said, "[T]rying to offer targeted fitness programs for children and teens is something that has not grown significantly in our industry, but it's something managers should try."

Learn-to-swim programs and senior fitness classes are also on her priority list, along with offering clients access to competitive activities. "Whether you develop a youth swim team or you partner with swim teams that are using your facility, really try to offer something for everyone, because each individual and their interests are going be different."

One challenge facing the M-NCPPC—and many other aquatic centers—is the lack of disposable income among area residents. "Socioeconomics plays a big part … and trying to break down those social and economic barriers has been a big thing," said Annette LeHew, health and wellness coordinator for the M-NCPPC. To combat the lagging economy and help clients continue to reap the health and recreational benefits of the local aquatic facilities, LeHew said the M-NCPPC team has developed a campaign that offers free pool admission a few days a week during the summer, and also doubles as a marketing pitch for the youth-oriented aquatics program. For parents struggling to provide safe and healthy activities for their kids, the campaign provides "free access for children in our county, and taking away the costs helps provide access to those families."

Engaging Minorities

Drowning statistics for minorities are generally higher than those for whites, with fatal drownings among African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 coming in at triple the number for white children in the same age bracket. Reducing these tragedies is of primary importance, but getting minority groups more involved in aquatic activities—and getting them engaged in water safety courses—requires overcoming some fear of water issues along with addressing cultural, social and sometimes economic factors that stand in the way.

Quan has conducted research into water safety among several minority communities, and says each group will have its own set of needs and reasons for resistance. For instance, she found that Somali women had transportation challenges because they may be restricted from driving, while many in the Vietnamese community were only accustomed to seeing water as a component of work, not relaxation or exercise.