The life-saving potential of Red Cross learn-to-swim Scholarships

By Gordon Williams

The American Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign goal is to reduce deaths by drowning, by making low-cost swim and water safety lessons widely available in cities and towns all over the United States. This summer the campaign will make a splash in Seattle, at the Tukwila Pool, to offer learn-to-swim scholarships to local youngsters.

Red Cross statistics show that 152 people of all ages drowned in King County between 2008 and 2014. Those are deaths the Red Cross believes could have been prevented in nearly every case had the victims been given ready and affordable access to swim and water safety lessons.

The Tukwila Pool is a center of community life in the South King County city of 20,000 since it first opened in 1973. The pool is centrally located–adjacent to town schools; and available at low cost to Tukwila residents. It is operated by the Tukwila Pool Metropolitan Park District.

The facility draws on average 21,578 visitors a year, says Brad Harpin, the pool’s Director of Aquatic Operations. It is a place for adults and kids to have fun, but its also a place to participate in valuable Water Safety courses. Each year the facility teaches on average 2,500 individuals how to swim, says Harpin.

He says the community of Tukwila can benefit greatly by teaming up with the Red Cross. “Collaborating with partners like the American Red Cross is important. The partnership allows the Tukwila Pool team to provide continued access to swim lessons and water safety programs by drastically reducing the price through the Centennial Campaign scholarship program.” according to Harpin.

A sign on the front door of the Tukwila Pool

Tukwila is a lower-income community, meaning less access to camps, private clubs and home pools where kids in more affluent towns learn to swim. Harpin points out that Tukwila has a high new immigrant population, with residents speaking no fewer than 20 languages–including Somali and Napalese.

Finding instructors and lifeguards who reflect the community and program participants can be a challenge for Harpin , who is committed to water safety instruction for all in his community, for good reason. Access to water abounds in the Seattle area. Between the ocean, the sound, lakes, rivers and community pools, there is a good chance that anyone growing up in the Seattle area will spend time in the water.

Youngsters can start at the Tukwila pool with basic learn-to-swim lessons and then move up through all levels of aquatic learning–junior lifeguard, lifeguard and swim instructor. Training also includes First Aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED). Water safety training is also available to adults as well.

Tatyana Kiselyov, Red Cross Northwest Territory Aquatic Specialist, explains, “Parents and caregivers are also learning what to do when things go wrong, including how to help someone in trouble in the water without getting into danger themselves.”

A banner hanging in the lobby of the Tukwila Pool

Basic swim lessons at the Tukwila Pool are available for as little as $6/$7 a lesson, but the Red Cross scholarship program will make them available at little or no cost to those who need financial assistance. Harpin expects at least 150 local youngsters will be on Red Cross swim scholarships by the end of the summer. The learn-to-swim program includes monthly evaluation sessions with parents. “That will let parents keep track of their kids swimming ability,” says Harpin,

For more about classes and more about the Tukwila Pool, call 206-267-2350 or visit jstiles@tukwilapool.org. To apply for a scholarship, visit tukwilapool.org and look under “Lessons/Swim Lesson Scholarship.”

For more about learning how to stay safe in the water, go to redcross.org/watersafety. For more about the Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign, including a video, go to redcross.org/centennialswim.

Finally, there is advice for parents who want to motivate their kids toward fun in the water. “Children who have been introduced to water based programming and feel comfortable in the water prior to starting lessons tend to be more successful,” says an information sheet from Tukwila Pool. “Our Family Swim time is an excellent opportunity to expose your child to a pool environment prior to beginning their lessons.”

Find swim lessons near you: redcross.org/take-a-class/swimming

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