Feature Article - January 2019
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On the Front Lines, Making a Difference

Grassroots Efforts & Technology Aim to Prevent Drowning

By Dave Ramont

A Little Help From Your Friends

USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport of swimming in the United States, promotes the culture of swimming by creating opportunities for swimmers and coaches of all levels, as well as selecting and training teams for international competition including the Olympic Games. The USA Swimming Foundation is the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming. Their Make a Splash initiative is a water safety campaign that aims to provide the opportunity for every child in America to learn to swim, regardless of race, gender or financial circumstance.

Through Make a Splash, the Foundation partners with learn-to-swim providers, community-based water safety advocates and national organizations to provide swim lessons and educate children and their families on the importance of learning how to swim. Since 2007, the initiative's Local Partner network has grown to more than 800 programs in all 50 states. Through these partners, kids from ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged communities receive the opportunity to enroll in free or reduced-cost swim lessons. To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $5 million in grants to aid Local Partners in their efforts to provide swim lessons to all children, regardless of their ability to pay.

Local Partner grant recipients are chosen based on their project goals and financial stability, their ability to serve a large and diverse population and their demonstrated partnerships with other qualified organizations. Tina Dessart, Make a Splash program director, said that they like to influence populations where they see lower levels of swimming abilities. "We go out into communities and try to work with providers in specific areas where we see high drowning rates, not necessarily specific to ethnic communities. Drowning rates are drowning rates, so we really want to target those areas and be able to provide services to any of the children in those areas."

The Local Partner swim network is quite diverse. "They're American Red Cross and YMCA, they're private for-profit swim schools, they're Boys and Girls Clubs—really anyone and everyone who is a swim lesson provider is for the most part eligible to become a Local Partner," Dessart said. "And that means that we've vetted their program that ensures best practices and quality safety standards."

Dessart said that a parent can go to the swim lesson finder on the foundation's website and if they see the Make a Splash and Foundation logo next to a provider's name, they know the program has been vetted and given a stamp of approval.

Dessart pointed out that water safety education is one component and swim lessons are another. "While the swim lessons themselves are a great resource, there are a lot of people who for one reason or another may not participate in swim lessons, and while we need to encourage them to do so, if we can just get the basic water safety education to them then it's one more level to keep them as safe as we can."

As far as more grassroots groups coming on the scene, Dessart thinks it's great and said they work with those groups as well. "We have many partners across the country who aren't specifically swim lesson providers, so we would call them task forces or local drowning prevention coalitions. We provide resources and materials to them as well so that they can really get out there and educate communities on all aspects of water safety. What we do then is connect them to the swim lesson providers in those areas, too, so, they can share the message."

Last year, the Make a Splash program reached its goal of serving more than a million kids and is on track to exceed its goal again this year.