By Gordon Williams

Thanks to the American Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign, there are 177 Seattle-area youngsters who feel safer and more at home in the water than they did only a few months ago.

The Red Cross campaign is a nationwide effort to reduce deaths by drowning, by making learn-to-swim lessons widely available. It is the Centennial campaign because it was launched in 2014 to mark 100 years since the Red Cross began teaching water safety.

Connie Harvey, the Red Cross director of Aquatics Centennial Initiatives, says that, through October 1, the Red Cross initiative had provided swim lessons to 96,171 individuals at over 2,100 facilities in 101 communities across 25 states.

One of those 2,100 facilities is the Tukwila Pool in Tukwila WA, a community of 20,000 in South King County. Harvey says the campaign gives out around 20,000 swim scholarships a year nationwide. And 177 of this year’s scholarships went to the Tukwila Pool.

June 12, 2017. City of Haines City Parks and Recreation, Florida. Isobella and Alejandra learning to swim as part of the Aquatics Centennial Campaign. Photo by Connie Harvey/American Red Cross

The Red Cross makes scholarships available where they are needed the most. Harvey says Florida has the greatest number of scholarship programs. That’s because Florida, with its long coastline and millions of pools, leads the U.S. in childhood drownings,

Childhood drownings are comparatively rare in Washington, but Tukwila Pool is in the scholarship program for other reasons. It has large numbers of kids for whom opportunities to swim are few and far between, with the cost of swim lessons financially out of reach. Tukwila is a low-income community, heavily populated with recent immigrants. Even low-cost lessons can be beyond the financial reach of many families. That is where a key element of the Red Cross Aquatics Centennial Campaign kicks in, making swim scholarships available to kids who need them.

When we talked last June to Brad Harpin, Tukwila Pool’s Director of Aquatic Operations, he was hoping for 150 scholarship recipients over the summer. In fact, he got 177. Based on the first-year success, Harpin will not only keep the program running in 2020, but build on it.

Harpin says the pool uses several standards to determine if a child qualifies for a scholarship. Parents can submit an income statement, but kids can also qualify if they receive reduced-cost or no-cost lunches at school.

Training over the summer was in basic learning-to-swim, aimed at building water competency. Program director Harvey says water competency is based on knowing the skills needed to survive an unexpected fall into the water. “That includes treading water for a minute, swimming at least 25 yards and climbing out of the water,” she says.

The pool is closed now for maintenance, but when it reopens early in 2020, Harpin says, the scholarship program will also include training in the next Red Cross levels of lifeguarding and water safety instructor. Goal for the program in 2020 is 200 Red Cross scholarships.

Harpin calls the scholarship program “a huge win” for both the Tukwila Pool and the community. One measure of success is the extent to which the program has generated word of mouth — one family telling another family. He recalls a woman who came in to sign up her family. “She was so impressed,” Harpin says, “she also signed up her cousin’s children.

Summing up, Harpin says, “The program has been embraced by the community in an amazing way.”

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