Preventing Juvenile Drowning
A Look at Howard's Hope
By Dave Ramont
In 2004, Steve Reeves and his wife Stacy had the horrible experience of witnessing the near-drowning of their 4-year-old daughter. After some research, they discovered that juvenile drownings are much more common than most people realize, and the idea that they could help make a difference was born. In 2013, Reeves authored a book about a little boy named Howard, and in 2014 his family decided to use book royalties to launch the nonprofit Howard's Hope, dedicating their time, money and energies toward preventing further juvenile drownings.
Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children under 5 years old, and the second leading cause among those 14 and under, outranked only by automobile accident deaths. Each day, about 10 people drown in the United States, and three of those are children, with a high percentage of them being minority kids and kids from low-income households.
"There are many causes attributed to this," Reeves said, "but one of the main ones is the children have never had any formal swim lessons and don't know how to swim."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that early childhood swim lessons can reduce childhood drowning risk by 88 percent. Howard's Hope aims to reduce juvenile drownings by providing economically disadvantaged youth access to organized swim programs. So they created the Flying Fish program, which provides the funds necessary for these kids to participate in formal swim lessons, learning aquatic safety and water survival skills.
The Flying Fish program, free to children residing in low-income or economically challenged households, partners with aquatic facilities across Tennessee. An application, which can be found at the Howard's Hope website, is required to determine eligibility.
"We currently work with the campus recreation departments at University of Memphis, Middle Tennessee State University [in Murfreesboro], and University of Alabama in Huntsville," Reeves said. They also partner with city aquatic departments in several other Tennessee regions, including Nashville and Chattanooga, as well as one in Hot Springs, Ark.
According to Reeves, the facilities have been extremely hospitable, and the aquatic directors have seen first-hand how there's a great need for this type of program. "To them it meets several goals: It gets non-swimming kids into organized swim classes, and it generates revenue for their facility. Remember, Howard's Hope doesn't 'provide' swim lessons, the organization 'funds' swim lessons."
Participating facilities market the Flying Fish program to their communities, as long as it doesn't conflict with city regulations.
The primary benefactor for the Flying Fish program is BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee Health Foundation, according to Reeves, who said that other support comes from Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and United Way agencies in Shelbyville, Tenn., and Coffee and Moore counties in Tennessee.
"We had a very successful fundraiser concert in late 2016, but have not had one since. However, we do continue to receive support from private citizens from across the country."
However, Reeves points out that though they're an all-volunteer organization operating on a shoestring budget, as the program becomes more popular and expands they are running out of capital.
But optimism pervades. "Our 1,000th Flying Fish will enter the program during the first week of June. By the end of the year (2018), we estimate that our attendance will reach 1,500 children," Reeves said.
Looking forward to 2019, Howard's Hope would like to expand into Little Rock, Ark., and into Kentucky, as well. In 2020 they'll look at the feasibility of expanding into the Birmingham, Ala., market.
Howard's Hope has truly turned a terrible experience into a potentially lifesaving venture.
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