Several organizations and the city of Merced are looking to outdo last year’s effort and teach 1,000 children to swim, which organizers say can be a life-saving effort.
With $9,000 from the Swim for Jaylin Scholarship Fund and First 5 of Merced County, children in Merced can sign up to learn to swim for $10 – less than half of the original fee.
The Merced Skimmers, a swim team, is helping the effort by providing volunteers for supervision, and the Merced Union High School District provides pools.
Superintendent Scott Scambray said approximately 40 percent of youngsters in Merced reach high school without learning to swim. “That’s far too high,” he said.
Scambray said it’s common for some families in Merced to avoid water rather than to teach their children to swim. Water can be intimidating for some people, he said, so offering the lessons at a reduced cost could remove some barriers and save lives.
In California, 58 children under the age of five drowned in 2011, according to the most recent numbers from a state Department of Health report. Thirty of the children lost their lives in a pool.
Last year’s effort for the program, called Safe Water Instruction Matters FUNdamentals, taught swimming lessons to 724 children from 6 months to 14 years of age. The program is a joint effort that uses trained volunteers and paid lifeguards.
The training of roughly 60 volunteers and lifeguards took place at El Capitan High this week, which is spring break for Merced schools. The high school-aged volunteers, who will earn community service hours, learned simple CPR for children and adults from a Riggs Ambulance Service crew on Wednesday.
The Swim for Jaylin Scholarship Fund is named after Jaylin Shepard, a 4-year-old who accidentally drowned in a hot tub in March 2013. The girl’s grandfather, Flip Hassett, donated $6,000 through his fund.
Martha Hermosillo, the executive director of First 5, said 300 of last year’s learners were younger than age five. The organization, which gets its money from tobacco taxes, donated $3,000 for the program.
The Merced City Council approved the $10 swim lessons this week. The total cost for the program without accounting for the donations is $16,031, according to city records.
Sign-ups for children from 6 months to 14 years old begin May 5 at Merced’s Parks and Recreation Office, 678 W. 18th St. Children can also be signed up online at the city’s website, www.cityofmerced.org. For more information, call Joey Chavez at (209) 385-6978.
There will be three sessions for lessons: June 9-19; June 23-July 3 and July 7-17. The lessons are planned for those dates at McNamara Pool from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and at Merced High from 4 to 7 p.m.