By Vincent Lyles
President/CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milw.
April is here and it’s starting to feel like springtime in Milwaukee. For many, that means celebrations like summer birthday parties, cook-outs, family reunions and more will be here soon. Sadly a number of these happy occasions will become tragedies because of an accidental drowning. Although unintentional drownings happen year-round, they tend to garner more attention when the weather gets warmer.
According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, each day 10 people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. A 2012 study by the University of Memphis and the USA Swimming organization showed that around 70 percent of African-American children don’t know how to swim compared to about 40 percent of white children. For our African-American children, as concerned adults, let’s make sure our children are safe in or near water.
A number of factors influence a child’s risk for drowning:
• He or she doesn’t know how to swim or has limited swimming ability
• There are no or few barriers to a pool such as a fence (not chain link – children can climb it)
• A lack of close adult supervision
• Location of the pool (easy to get into, especially for small children)
• Failure to wear life jackets (on boats or piers while fishing)
• Seizure disorders
The best protection against a child drowning is to make sure he or she knows how to swim.
For nearly 60 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee has taught thousands of children how to swim at our Augusta M. LaVarnway and Don & Sallie Davis (formerly Irving J. Seher) Boys & Girls Clubs’ pools. In partnership with the American Red Cross, the Clubs offers the “Learn to Swim” program. Trained adults lead lessons for beginner to advanced swimmers. In addition, Club members learn how they should behave in and around water, such as how to wear a life jacket, and what to do if someone needs help. The lessons are open to all Club members, and the costs are covered by the annual Club membership fee of $5.
Another part of water safety is teaching children what to do if they see something dangerous or if someone is in trouble. Many times children don’t know how to react responsibly.
They may run away or remain silent because they are too afraid to act or are afraid they will get in trouble. Or they may try to help their friend without knowing how to do it safely.
To teach children what to do in emergency situations, Boys & Girls Clubs is taking part in a new safety program called “Yell to Tell.” It teaches our members how to be responsible and take action by yelling for help and telling an adult if they see something dangerous. “Yell to Tell” adds to the “Learn to Swim” curriculum by also covering safety concerns involving rivers and lakes, pools, fire, poison, guns and child enticement.
In addition to Boys & Girls Clubs, there are other places in Milwaukee that offer swimming and water safety lessons. Our partners, MPS Recreation and Milwaukee County Parks, also provide year-round swim lessons for the community. The American Red Cross is also a good referral source for swim lessons.
Although there are resources where our children can learn to swim, the burden of their safety will always rests with us, the adults. We need to closely watch our children whenever they are in water and not rely on others to watch them. In addition, whether at a small pool in the backyard or at the beach, adults must not be distracted from keeping watch by cell phones, texting, talking to others or watching TV. True fact: a child (or an adult) can drown in as little as six inches of water.
And lastly, if we adults don’t know how to swim, we should to take lessons. Age or even hairstyles should not stop us from getting in the pool. By learning how to swim, we show our kids we take water safety seriously. Plus, swimming can become a fun, family-time activity. Swimming can even open doors to new adventures and opportunities. Who knows, you could have the next Cullen Jones, an African-American Olympic swimmer, in your family?
For more information about swim lessons through Boys & Girls Clubs, contact the Augusta M. LaVarnway Boys & Girls Club at (414) 372-6810, 2739 N. 15th St. or the Don & Sallie Davis Boys & Girls Club at (414) 383-2650, 1975 S. 24th St.