Living in Florida, one of the most important skills your child needs to have is the ability to swim. For many in our area, homes often come with pools, so the skills can even be taught right at home. But, for some families, access to a pool is a luxury not available in the budget.
For that reason, the New Tampa Family YMCA (located off Compton Dr. in Tampa Palms) has teamed up with the University Area Community Development Corporation, Inc. (UACDC), to help spread drowning awareness and teach kids to swim this summer.
Located less than a mile from the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus and minutes south and west of New Tampa on N. 22nd St., the UACDC Community Center is surrounded by some of the most blighted areas in the city and, to many kids in the nearby neighborhoods, the thought of swimming in a pool is just a dream.
However, as part of the UACDC’s “DreamCatcher” summer camp program, which runs through mid-August, the dream of learning to swim and safely playing in a pool is coming true for about 50 kids, ages 5-12. Twice per week (on Mondays and Wednesdays), a bus brings the campers from the Community Center to the New Tampa YMCA to use the facility’s recently renovated, Olympic-sized (50-meter) pool.
“(UACDC has) been trying to make partnerships that give the campers a lot of different experiences,” says UACDC executive director Dan Jurman. “We have normal ‘camp stuff’ for the kids, too, like arts and crafts, but (learning to swim at the Y) is really special.”
Jurman says that there are lots of retention ponds in the neighborhoods around the Community Center and the four-foot fences around these ponds likely won’t keep curious kids out. “If we can teach these kids to swim and make sure they know how to stay safe around water, that’s amazing,” Jurman explains.
The first lesson was held on June 18, under a hot New Tampa summer sun, making the New Tampa Y’s pool the place to be. Spirits were high as campers worked with YMCA swimming instructors, learning the proper techniques for floating, kicking and the arm strokes for the common, freestyle technique of swimming. Campers also —with assistance — got to use kickboards and dive for plastic, sinking rings. The lesson culminated with a climactic leap into the pool for each camper.
“I’m so excited for my daughter Genesis,” said Maria Miranda, who watched with joy as her daughter splashed with instructors and fellow campers in the pool. “She didn’t know how to swim and always has been afraid of (going in) the water at friends’ pools or at the beach, but now look at her. She’s going to be wanting to go to the beach all the time to practice.”
New Tampa Y executive director Monica Mirza says that the organization is excited to partner with UACDC.
“We reached out to (UACDC) to figure out how we could partner up,” Mirza explains. “The one thing that they don’t have at the Community Center is a pool. Most of these kids don’t have any access to a pool or swimming lessons and that’s something that every kid should have access to. It means a lot to us to be able to provide that to them.”
The campers themselves had few complaints. Genesis, 6, said that she had fun during the lesson and is looking forward to coming all summer.
“The water was a little cold,” said an eight-year-old camper named Jonathan.
“I really liked the jumping part,” said Isaac, 8. “It was very cool learning how to kick, too.”
Jurman says that he’s excited to able to offer the lessons to the young campers.
“The Community Center is only about five miles away,” Jurman explains. “But, for some, that’s far enough to not get here. We’re trying to eliminate that barrier.”
For more information about the New Tampa Family YMCA, please visit TampaYMCA.org. For info about the UACDC, check out UACDC.org.