NEW TAMPA — A recent national research study led by the USA Swimming Foundation in conjunction with the University of Memphis uncovered some alarming statistics.
Only three in 10 African-American youngsters and four out of 10 Hispanic/Latino children know how to swim.
Their research also revealed that African-American children drown at a rate that is nearly three times higher than their Caucasian peers.
However that risk, according to the study, is reduced by 88 percent when youngsters participate in formalized swimming lessons.
That data was the motivating factor in the recently formed partnership between the University Area Community Development Corporation and the New Tampa Family YMCA.
The two organizations joined forces to provide swimming lessons to children ages 5-12 living in the University Area, a community bordering the University of South Florida made up of mainly minority, low-income families.
Some 50 youngsters from the neighborhood enrolled in the UACDC’s Dream Catchers eight-week summer camp are being bused twice weekly to the New Tampa Y for swimming lessons. The program got underway on June 18.
The two nonprofit organizations are splitting the $4,000 cost, which on the UACDC’s end is funded by grants received for the summer camp by the DeBartolo Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, Molina Health, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Walmart Supercenter at Nebraska and Bearss avenues.
Instructors focus on the basic skills of water safety such as treading water, the front and back float and the proper use of personal flotation devices.
“It’s exciting to be working together and sharing what we’re good at,” said Dan Jurman, UACDC’s executive director and CEO. “And when you look at the number of retention ponds in the area you see how important it is that these children go through this swimming program.”
Monica Mirza, executive director of the New Tampa Y, agreed.
“I think it’s a great partnership and a great opportunity to teach water safety to the University Area’s most vulnerable population,” she said. “We want to give everybody an equal opportunity to have swimming lessons.”
Maria Perez — whose 6-year-old daughter Genesis Perez was among the first group in the 5- to 8 year-old category to take to the water — was watching from the sidelines as the Y’s instructors gently encouraged the child to dip her head into the water and later kick with her feet with the use of a noodle-like flotation device.
“She was so excited to come because she doesn’t know how to swim,” Genesis’ mother said. “And I feel very grateful for this program because I can’t afford regular swimming lessons.”
UACDC’s director of development Ronnie Oliver called the occasion a “special time” for the children, noting that for many it was most likely their first-ever experience in a swimming pool.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” he said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]