Swimming isn’t the easiest task to master, which is why the YMCA of Coastal Georgia works with Liberty County schools to get students involved in swim lessons at an early age.
The YES program allows second- and third-grade students to get a feel for the water in a safe environment, free of charge.
"The YES program is alive and well, and it may look a little different the next year than it has in the past 14 years, but it will continue to serve the schools as well as an expanded audience," Bucky Johnson, senior vice president of YMCA of Coastal Georgia said. "We are committed to the program and we are going to make sure that it continues to be offered to the children in Liberty County."
Since its inception, the program has been funded through United Way of the Coastal Empire, Johnson said. For the upcoming year, the program may be implemented at private schools and other after-school activity centers.
Dr. Whit Fraser, who founded The Fraser Center and the YMCA for Liberty County, was a pediatrician who believed in empowering children with life skills important for survival, Johnson said.
"One of his wishes was that all young people would be given proper exposure to water because there had been way too many drowning," he said.
More than one in five fatal drowning victims are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another four receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention home and recreational safety web-
Year round, students take advantage of the five-day-a-week program that includes classroom and pool instruction. The idea of the program is to prepare children so they can enjoy the water and avoid any potential hazards, said Emily Roszkowiak, aquatics director for the Y.
At any given time, the fitness center may have 30 to 45 children in training, with several staffers on hand — including two lifeguards — to ensure participants safety, Roszkowiak said. Instructors and swimmers spend 45 minutes in the classroom going over water safety before spending 45 minutes in the pool honing swimming skills.
The first day of lessons is dedicated to learning basic guidelines, including wearing life vests and calling to adults for help when a person is struggling in the water.
"It’s not just swimming lessons; you want to teach them to be able to save themselves," Roszkowiak said.
The director said her favorite part of working with the students is seeing their confidence grow with each day they spend in the water.
"The whole premise of the program is kind of my favorite thing. When you live in a coastal area, the idea that you taught a child something that could possibly save them — it is overwhelming, really, and it is exciting."
Board members at the Y also support the program and want to see it continue to flourish.
"When a child is a victim of a drowning, it is almost always a preventable incident. And it is always very tragic to the family and community," said Deidre Howell, administrator of the Liberty County Health Department. "Anything that can be done to teach children about water safety should be done ... especially when it’s free!"