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In the swim: Program aims to help more kids make a splash toward lessons and water recreation

With a goal to get more kids in swim lessons this summer, a Spokane program backs that up by providing multiple scholarships for pool sessions countywide – on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The Spokane Parks Foundation’s Make a Splash in a Kid’s Life program works to boost water education at city, county and YMCA pools so that lack of income isn’t a barrier to children learning to swim. The program also subsidizes lifeguard training costs for youth as funds are available. Pool operators here again face staff shortages that risk opening some pools and swim lesson availability.

Backing more water education is aimed at the prevention of drownings, a leading cause of death for children younger than 14, said Kevin Eddy, Make a Splash program chairman. The Spokane and Coeur d’Alene region has more than 70 bodies of water and 12 aquatics facilities, says the foundation, but not every family can afford swim lessons.

Locally, Eddy said there’s also a need to increase swim lesson attendance where it’s been low in past years at Hillyard, Cannon and Liberty pools, although the pandemic skewed participation everywhere.

“It’s kind of surprising, but Spokane, for a city of our size, we don’t really do the best job with getting a lot of kids in swim lessons. Our pools are only open about 10 weeks a year, and space is limited. In the Hillyard neighborhood and the Cannon area – those two in particular – and even the Liberty pool, those are the top three pools where it’s tough to get kids to sign up for lessons.”

Nearly 80% of children in households with total income less than $50,000 have little-to-no swimming ability, according to USA Swimming. The organization says formal swim lessons reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning by 88%. Eddy said Make a Splash began around 2009 to ensure that kids in the city could afford access to pools.

“We still fundraise for access and still to provide kids with swimsuits, but now it’s more evolved into getting kids involved in swimming lessons and then also laying the foundation for the next generation of lifeguards, so we’re raising money toward that.

“We’re just trying to connect the dots so that the city of Spokane and the city of Spokane Valley, YMCA and the county can have good lifeguards who can teach lessons, and then can have kids from all socioeconomic groups represented in their lesson programs .” It can cost $200 to $300 for a lifeguard course, a stretch for many families, he said, and finishing a class doesn’t guarantee employment for a youth.

Beginning last year, free Saturday morning swim clinics were added at regional pools to teach water skills, and those are scheduled to return, Eddy said. Make a Splash’s funding supports staff costs for the clinics, he said.

“Because of work schedules, families don’t always have a traditional Monday-through-Friday schedule or traditional hours, so we also granted money to do Saturday morning swim clinics,” Eddy said. “We did that last year, and they were pretty successful.

Schedules and signups for free Saturday clinics are still being developed but so far include ones at Hillyard, Cannon and Liberty pools, he said. Families can check with the park and recreation offices where they live. The city of Spokane has scheduled pools to open June 20. Swim lessons are $56 for eight classes a session.

The Valley city pools, staffed by YMCA of the Inland Northwest, are scheduled to open June 18, with lessons on June 27. However, the city announced a “staffing crisis” that’s expected to affect swim lessons – about $40 a session. The YMCA only has about one-third the number of seasonal employees required to staff all three Valley city pools, a news release said.

“At current staffing levels, only one pool will be open at a time on a rotating daily schedule. Registration for the first session of swim lessons, which opens to the public on June 6, will include only one-third the number of planned swim lessons than in a typical year,” the release said. As more lifeguards are hired, more swim lessons will be added.

The county is scheduled to begin swim lessons June 13 at $50 to $60 for classes, and it offers sibling discounts. For this season, the Make a Splash program allocated $5,600 to the City of Spokane for supplementing swim lessons and $5,400 for the city’s free swim clinics, Eddy said. For the City of Spokane Valley, the group provided $2,000 toward swimming scholarships and $2,000 toward free weekend swim clinics, he said.

“The county charges admission, so we allocated $5,000 for swim lessons in the county and then $5,200 for some free swim nights – four at the southside and four at the northside for the county.”

The city of Cheney’s aging pool became too expensive to fix and isn’t available, Eddy said, so Eastern Washington University has partnered with the city to operate summer pool activities and lessons for children that start June 20. Make a Splash is providing $3,000 to the city of Cheney for swim lesson scholarships, then another $1,000 for free swim clinics, Eddy said.

“We’ve also allocated $2,000 to the YMCA and $2,000 to the City of Airway Heights, and finally, for anyone in the county, there’s a pool of money for lifeguard training.”

Additionally, the program annually partners with the General Store, where customers recently helped raise $4,386 for Make a Splash. The retailer’s roundup promotion helped support the purchase of swimsuits for program participants.

Swimsuits will be distributed at community and youth centers the first and second week of June, Eddy said. Interested families can contact their local community or youth center, he said.

Make a splash relies on public donations, grants and business partnerships. It also funds some free open swim opportunities and community pool parties for low-income youth each year.

Donations can be made at spokaneparksfoundation.org/donate or by texting “parks” to (202) 858-1233.

Swim lesson and lifeguard scholarships

Depending on where they live, families can request a child’s swim lesson scholarship for city, county or YMCA pools. The program’s scholarships don’t require proof of need, Eddy said, but early applications are encouraged because funding is limited and awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

To check, families can contact their municipality’s parks and recreation office, where staff can apply a scholarship discount, Eddy said. “Discount lessons are available in Airway Heights, Cheney, County of Spokane, City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley and the YMCA.”

Funds are still available for lifeguards to be trained, ages 15 or older, at free or discounted rates. EWU, City of Spokane, Airway Heights and the YMCA are conducting the training and jointly managing the funds, Eddy said.

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