BRADENTON – While enjoying a swim in the water surrounding Anna Maria Island or taking a swim in a warm pool is the norm for most people living on the Island, many would be surprised to hear there are children who live only a few miles away who have never seen the Gulf of Mexico or been in a swimming pool.
Armed with this knowledge, the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island is doing its part to make sure at-risk children have the chance to learn how to swim and learn the basics of water safety.
“There are over a million swimming pools in Florida, and the state ranks #1 in the number of small children who drown,” said Dennis Schuermann, treasurer of AMI Rotary. “It’s our mission to change this, and educate at-risk and disadvantaged kids who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to water safety and swimming lessons.”
The Rotary also says for every child that drowns, five more require rescue from life-threatening water accidents. According to a study by the USA Swimming Foundation, about 70% of African Americans do not know how to swim, and 10 people drown in the United States every day. AMI Rotary finds these statistics unacceptable, and while they admit they can’t change this nationally or even for the entire state, there is plenty they can do locally with their Water Safety/Learn to Swim Program.
“It’s such a joy to watch the progress made in just the first week of lessons,” said Judy Run, who’s been running the program for several years. “The atmosphere in the pool is so visible, happy faces eagerly awaiting their turn with the instructor. Some of the kids have never seen the ocean or been in a pool, so to see them develop a comfort level and feel more confident each day is something to see.”
Although this is the fifth year of the program, it was on hiatus for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they received some grants, most of the money raised comes directly from AMI Rotary fundraising efforts, including their annual golf tournament. At $80 per child, and a goal next year of 100 children, this is an expensive endeavor, but Rotarians believe it is a most worthy cause, and have no plans to slow down.
The Rotary is also excited about Florida Senate Bill 364, which was signed into law on Oct. 8, 2021 by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The law makes available a new specialty license plate benefiting the Florida Swims Foundation. After the signing of the bill, swimming and pool industry leaders from the Pool & Hot Tub Foundation (PHTF), the Florida Swimming Pool Association (FSPA) and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) announced a joint partnership to help combat drowning in the state. Proceeds from the license plate will further the cause.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Water Safety/Learn to Swim Program can mail a check to The Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island Foundation Inc. The address is P.O. Box 1344, Holmes Beach, Florida 34218.