JANUARY 2024, QUINCY | Quincy is a wonderful place of rich history, the home of two U.S. Presidents, of a once-internationally renowned granite industry, and important shipbuilding facilities on the Fore River. It’s also a place surrounded by water, with long stretches of sea-facing coastline, rivers, ponds, and now-retired granite quarries, which fill with water and become de facto ponds that can be deep and dangerous.
To grow up safely in Quincy, it’s imperative that kids learn how to swim.
“The Y built the first pool in Quincy, in 1912,” said Paul Gorman, President and CEO of the South Shore YMCA. “For more than a hundred years, we’ve made safety around water a top priority for all Quincy residents, and we always will. Thanks to support from donors and funders, this past fall we took a huge leap forward in how we provide swim lessons in Quincy.”
“We had a phenomenal opportunity of grant-funded monies that were awarded to us to expand our already phenomenal partnership with Quincy Public Schools, said Katelyn Szafir, Executive Director of the Hale YMCA branch in Quincy, “which would allow their elementary schools’ second-grade classrooms to come to our Y for eight weeks of free water safety instruction.”
Thanks to a $35,000 Y-USA Community Engagement swim lessons grant, the South Shore YMCA could think about providing water safety instruction on a grand scale. Bolstered by $5,000 from the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, the Y’s Aquatics team was empowered to think beyond just pool time. Thanks to a partnership with Goggles for Guppies, the Y purchased hundreds of bathing suits to give to kids who might not have them.
From September to November 2023, the Quincy Public Schools transported second graders from around the city to the Y for morning lessons. “It was just amazing,” said Szafir. “When the kiddos are coming in to go to swim, all the members stop and say, ‘This is so awesome that you guys are doing this.’ They are high-fiving the kids, and it’s just, a really great atmosphere to be around. I love it, just seeing the kids all coming in, and their happy energy, they shout, ‘Hi, Miss Kaitlyn!’ They are so excited to be here at the Y and to learn.”
John Valenzuela, Aquatics Operational Manager at the Hale Family Y, helped coordinate the massive program. “The kids came in during the morning, and we split them up into groups based on how well they could swim, and how much experience they had in the water. From there, we taught some basic skills, like how to float, how to jump into the pool and climb out of the pool, learning how to swim 10 to 15 meters in case they need to reach something. So really teaching those basic skills, how to swim, float, and then swim.
“That’s one of the biggest skills a child can have, in case they’re in the water and they get tired, being able to swim a little bit, then float on their back, catch their breath and keep swimming… you can really save someone’s life, right?” he said. “And those are the things we’re trying to teach so that even if they don’t come back in the future, they’ll have those skills and they’ll be a little safer when they go out to the beach or go to a pool at a friend’s house.”
Thanks to the longstanding partnership between the Y and the Quincy Public Schools, the project – Swim, Safety & Skills – came together seamlessly. “The goals of the program included staying safe, being confident, and having fun,” said Janice Erler, Coordinator, Quincy Public School Community Partnerships. “The program was a huge success! The students had a great time and loved being in the pool. The YMCA Lifeguards and Swim Instructors were patient, kind, and helpful.”
According to Valenzuela, the connections made between the instructors and the kids have lasted well beyond the eight weeks. “Sometimes, we see some of the same kids coming to the pool during our Open Swim time with their parents and they’re acting the same way they do during our sessions – they’re having fun and using their skills in the pool. Just seeing those connections even if we don’t see them every day. It’s really nice to see them using those skills when they bring their parents to the pool and are showing them what they know. That’s really cool.”
The importance of convincing kids to return to the pool is a major mission of the program. “Alongside the little present we give, like a rubber duck to remind them to float and swim,” said Valenzuela, “we also send them home with some information about our Y Swim Programs and what we offer so that they’re aware of the programs, plus the financial assistance we can give them towards those programs.”
“We would love to expand this program to other elementary schools,” said Szafir. “Water safety is so important for our children. We want all kids to learn to love swimming by building their confidence first.”
With supporters like Y-USA, the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance, Goggles for Guppies, and the many private donors who support swim scholarships for kids at the Y each year, the door to swim lessons – to lifelong safety around water skills – is always open.
“Based on our geography,” said Gorman, “the need for safety around water will always grow. We thank our donors and funders for making this important program come together. We promise to continue to work hard to make sure every child in our region learns how to swim.”