Swim For Your Life

By Bradie Allen
Photos Courtesy Of Bradie Allen

Just a couple of years ago, while working outside the aquatic industry, I received a phone call about a new volunteer coalition: The NCH Safe & Healthy Children’s Coalition of Collier County. “Something I should most assuredly participate in, with my background,” the caller urged. “A drowning-prevention coalition had been established, and great things were in the works!” Sure enough, at the meeting in October 2011, I joined a group of individuals hailing from area aquatic facilities and a number of emergency first-responder organizations. At that time, I learned the number-one cause of death for children under the age of 5 was drowning. It was shocking, and motivating, and I knew I was in exactly the right place at the right time to make a difference.


Since then, one of the coalition’s most successful ventures was joining forces with SWIM Central. SWIM Central transports children, largely from disadvantaged daycares, to certified aquatic facilities throughout the county, where each child receives 10 30-minute water-safety lessons over a 2-week period. We were encouraged to “borrow” the program, modify it, and adapt it from neighboring BrowardCounty to meet the needs of our highest-risk population. SWIM Central is an integral component of the coalition’s ongoing effort to decrease the number of drowning incidents in the county.

Since SWIM Central began in March 2012, more than 1,111 children have participated, and 9, 869 water-safety lessons have been offered. Despite these valiant efforts, drowning remains the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years of age in the county. Since water-safety lessons have proven to decrease the risk of a child falling victim to a non-fatal injury or fatal drowning, these efforts have been justified, particularly in Southwest Florida.

Disabled Benefit From Program, Too
According to the National Autism Association (www.nationalautismassociation.org/resources/autism-safety-facts/), drowning is one of the leading causes of death among this group. Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Lynn Clarke says that through her education, observation, and many years of experience working with children with disabilities, she has learned that the children—especially those in the Autism Spectrum—learn by repetition. They love repetitive actions, schedules, and time tables, and don’t seem to tire of doing the same game, activity, or challenge, even after they master it. When the traditional once- or twice-a-week swim lessons proved ineffective for this audience, Clarke found what she was looking for while observing a SWIM Central program.

With brief training and some mild convincing, five swim instructors were recruited to teach 20 children with varying disabilities (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, visual impairments, and blindness) these life-changing and life-saving skills. The program’s success was measured by the pre- and post-evaluation, but even more by the smiles, the instructors’ reactions, the tears of joy from the parents, and the overwhelming community support.

Lynn Clarke, CTRS and recreation supervisor for the city of Naples, Fla., contributed to this report.

Bradie Allen is the aquatic supervisor for the city of Naples, Fla. Reach him at (239) 213-3040, or ballen@naplesgov.com .