Klein said he sees children who are not water-safe during his job as a family doctor in Hillsborough. He said he has always wanted to do something about this and decided to bring up the idea of a water safety program for second-graders and name the initiative after the late doctor.
“We don’t want to have to recreate the wheel,” Klein said. “We want to find a successful water safety program for kids.”
Will Atherton, chairperson of the Orange County Schools Board of Education, said the nonprofit approached the Board with the idea for free swim lessons for kids. He said this conversation sparked interest in OCS.
“All of us have been really excited about the program,” Atherton said.
Nearly 3,600 people die in the United States each year from accidental drowning, and children account for 945 of those deaths.
Atherton said an educational program like Swim for Charlie should be implemented because the county has the necessary resources.
“Given we have a Sportsplex, that is a county-owned facility, and this program that is funded through donations, having the opportunity to have Orange County students participate in a program that is going to save lives is a wonderful thing,” Atherton said.
As the program is just beginning, there are only three schools where this program will be implemented this spring: Central Elementary, Efland-Cheeks Global Elementary and New Hope Elementary.
Stephen Halkiotis, a board member for Orange County Schools, said he supports the program.
“Not everyone has access to a pool and the money for lessons,” Halkiotis said. “Swim for Charlie makes sense, and I fully support it — great idea with great people behind it.”
Halkiotis served as a county commissioner from 1986 to 2006, where he started a program where third-graders could learn to swim during the school day with parental permission. However, he said the program was dropped in the 1990s.
Halkiotis said he believes it's the right thing to do to help the children of Orange County and that he is optimistic about the program's future.
“I hope the Swim for Charlie Program becomes a fixed component of the Orange County School System — that all second-grade children have a wonderful opportunity to learn how to swim in a safe water environment," Halkiotis said.
The first school that will participate in this new program is Central Elementary, and they will start their lessons on Monday, Feb. 3.
“We are moving at light speed,” Klein said. “The date is set in stone. The buses will be rolling and bringing in the kids, and we’ll be teaching them.”
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