In an effort to prevent drowning, free spring and summer swimming lessons are being offered for the first time to Gulfport youth ages 3 to 12 at the Stetson University College of Law pool.
The program is named “Safety Around Water” and its five-day sessions are being sponsored by the school, the city of Gulfport, the Juvenile Welfare Board and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg.
“All across the country, the Y is the leading provider of swimming lessons,” said Tim Staley, chief operating officer for the local YMCA. “Our local focus in St. Petersburg and in Florida is to make sure that every young child knows how to swim and to keep safe around water.”
The program has been offered in the Tampa Bay area for seven years with a variety of sponsors, he said. “This year, for the first time in Gulfport, we have the opportunity to work with Stetson Law to do it on that campus.”
Florida leads the country in the number of annual drowning cases, said Heidi Blair, senior program director for the YMCA. “In the state, it is the leading cause of death in children under age four.”
Blair is in charge of training all of the swimming instructors and it’s her staff that will be delivering the lessons and guarding the pool.
Gulfport youth who complete the series of lessons will be given a certificate and a bracelet that shows their achievement in the program, said Blair.
“When I was a kid, I was a lifeguard,” said Vice Mayor Paul Ray. “Recently, I was watching a TV show and they were talking about how prevalent it is for kids to drown around pools and water in general.
“It just really bothered me.”
That’s when he reached out to the local YMCA and found out they were already in the process of organizing swimming lessons for free in the area.
Ray helped the effort by finding a local pool and garnering the support of the city.
“It worked out together, perfectly,” he said.
Classes will be 45 minutes in length beginning at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and will take place on Saturdays, except July 6. The dates for Session 1 are June 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 while Session 2 is scheduled for July 13, 20, 27, August 3 and 10.
To register beginning May 1, go to the YMCA at 3200 1st Ave. N. in St. Petersburg, call 727-328-9622 or visit stpeteymca.org/programs/water-safety-program.