The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday April 14th

YMCA to provide free swim lessons to 14 kids

Hopes to combat national drowning rate

A local nonprofit is providing free swimming lessons to 14 black children in an effort to eliminate a racial disparity.

Next month, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA will collaborate with the South Orange County Family Resource Center in hopes that the lessons will boost the number of local black children who know how to swim.

“Some families in our community have the financial means to provide swim lessons to their kids,” Greg Lee, the senior membership and marketing director of the Y, said in an e-mail.

“Some do not, and the Y doesn’t believe that decisions about swim lessons, as well as other vital programs, should simply be based on the financial means of families.”

The drowning rate for black people across all ages was 1.2 times that of whites between 2000 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But these rates are notably higher for children. Black children ages 5 to 14 are 3.1 times more likely to drown than white children in the same age group.

“The reason for this difference, in my personal opinion, is related to historical disparities in access to water, like beaches or pools, between African Americans and whites,” said Steve Marshall, a faculty member at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center.

The local partnership began when Kathy Glosson, the former after-school care coordinator for the resource center, wanted the children to have swim lessons before attending an end of the year activity at a pool.
The YMCA and the center had been planning the swimming lessons since May but had to wait to start the lessons until October due to scheduling conflicts.

The participating children were selected on a first-come, first- served basis, and all who applied were admitted.

“Certainly more children are interested, but due to a lack of transportation, many parents are unable to get their children back and forth to the Y to take the classes,” said Alesia Sanyika, the resource center’s program coordinator.

The center serves many families that receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, meaning they cannot afford to spend their limited income on a “luxury” item like swim lessons, Sanyika said.
Most YMCA swim classes last four to six weeks and range from about $50 to $80 per lesson for non-YMCA members.

Butch Kisiah, director of the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Department, said because he has witnessed children drowning in the past, he thinks swimming lessons should be incorporated into school curriculum.
“If kids feel comfortable being in the water and are confident in their swimming abilities, they would participate more in swimming,” Kisiah said.

His department is teaming up with the North Carolina Aquatic Club to offer a program similar to the YMCA’s, which will be put in place this spring or summer at the A.D. Clark pool, Kisiah said.

The fatal drowning rates of black people were brought to national attention after six black teenagers drowned in an attempt to save their relative from the Red River in Louisiana this summer.

“The Louisiana drowning only reaffirmed the need for all children to know water safety and swimming skills before getting into swimming pools, lakes or oceans,” Sanyika said.

Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu.

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