Northwest Y teaches teens to be junior lifeguards
TAMPA - Usually most days are boring for the junior lifeguards at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA. While school is out for three months, they watch swimmers who are enjoying the cool water under the hot sun. There are very few worries in the world except which summer movie to go see. Every once in awhile, though, their lives go from looking out over the pool to actually having to take some action. Their response can be the difference between life and death. It's taken seriously and Marilyn Gyselinck, YMCA program director, said it isn't just a matter of just letting a bunch of high schoolers sit on a bench and keep an eye on a pool filled with hundreds of swimmers each day. The YMCA junior lifeguard program is a 10-week program that teaches everything from CPR to giving oxygen to one-on-one first aid. Those who complete the junior lifeguard program become aquatic safety assistants.Everyone who wants to be a part of the program can find out about it easily enough. The YMCA sends out email blasts to members and the kids can spend part of their summers volunteering. They get high school community service credits, and many of the kids come back summer after summer. There are three different ways for kids to volunteer as a junior lifeguard at the YMCA. Some are there to hand out wristbands so everyone knows which kids are allowed in what part of the vast pool. Some of the junior lifeguards work as aquatic counselors and others give swim lessons. The YMCA always has plenty of children who want or need to learn to swim, so having instructors is a vital part of the YMCA aquatics program. "Seventy-five percent of our instructors started here as junior lifeguard instructors,'' Gyselinck said. "It is an incredible opportunity for the kids and we need programs for teens to help them have an exciting summer where they learn something." The junior lifeguard program was started four years ago and has taken off quickly. Technically, the junior lifeguards are not allowed to save the life of a child in danger but they are right there for assistance with the trained professionals. The YMCA pool is never left unguarded. The kids who volunteer their summers at the YMCA take their responsibilities seriously. Lucas Gordan, a freshman at Alonso High School, is a member of the program. He learned to swim at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA and said he adapted to the program immediately. "I can be a lifeguard at 16 and I'm almost there," Gordan said. "I get to take a lifeguard certification course and move on from there." One rainy day there were threats of thunder in the area. The YMCA takes thunder and lightning warnings seriously, so Gordan stopped handing out wristbands as soon as the first warnings of thunder came through. Being a lifeguard, he said, isn't just about saving kids in the water. It's about educating kids about the dangers of the water and also emphasizing the fun that provides a skill that can last kids for a lifetime. "I'm getting certified now, but this is something I will do forever,'' Gordan said. "I know I will be back as a volunteer next year.'' For more information on the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA Junior Lifeguard program, call (813) 249-8510.