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

Wellness Programming for Aquatic Facilities

By Julie Knudson

The demographics and challenges vary by region, but Quan believes aquatic centers can use some baseline introductory questions to begin a dialogue with the minority groups in their particular area. "Ask them, 'What's your community water experience?' And if they're immigrants, what was their experience in their original country? How did they engage in water sports or recreational water?"

She said she learned during her research that the answers to those questions may not be what you expect. "We found that you just can't assume you know."

Quan also encourages facility operators to reach out to local minorities "within their community groups, church groups, temple groups, as well as the leaders of those groups, and sit down and talk to them. Say, 'We would like to welcome you all and offer our facilities to your community.'"

The steps Quan's group has taken to further involve minorities in water activities in the Pacific Northwest include developing brochures in different languages about where free or low-cost swim sessions are available, and the bus route numbers to get to those sessions. "We identified the cost, we identified if it's indoor or outdoor, and we identified how you could get there," she said.

One group the M-NCPPC facilities are actively working to engage is the Muslim population, particularly women within that demographic. "A lot of it has to do with their culture and having to be covered completely," Eggleston said. "Or in some cases, they're not permitted to swim while men or boys are using the facility at the same time. So we found that it has been a challenge in terms of that group, engaging them and providing opportunities."

Because government agencies typically aren't able to support single-gender access, accommodating the needs of female Muslims has proven difficult. "We do allow the women and girls to swim completely covered, so we still are supportive of their culture and their lifestyle. We just require that they have a swimsuit under their garments," Eggleston explained.

The community supported by the M-NCPPC also includes a large African-American population, where Eggleston said fear of injury, drowning and a lack of water experience combine to put aquatics low on the list of preferred activities. "A lot of that is passed down from generations prior to now," she said. "And it had a lot to do with previous circumstances of segregation and lack of access to swimming activities for minority groups."

Eggleston believes that few role models in the aquatics industry, whether professionally or competitively, may also make minorities feel they don't have "someone they can relate to in the industry to encourage them to participate." The M-NCPPC puts significant energy into networking with the local minority populations, and Eggelston said that successfully engaging them in swimming or water fitness activities takes a concentrated and focused effort. "If they're not actively or regularly walking into your aquatic facilities, we do believe it's necessary to set up additional outreach efforts and tools to help capture these customers."

February is Black History Month, and Eggleston said it's a prime opportunity for aquatic facility operators to attend local community events and market the available aquatics programs and services. "It's also a great time of year to educate the community about prominent figures within the aquatics industry," she said, "whether it's professionally or competitively, to push the idea that aquatics activity is not just for fun and recreation, but this could really become a lifestyle choice for your health."