Pools have long been happy places for kids, but for those who grow up without access to swim safety or lessons, danger can hide in plain sight. Ten people drown in the United States every day and children, especially those in minority communities, are at the greatest risk. Sheila F. Wilson-Madden wanted to make sure the kids at St. Patrick’s Catholic School have the skills and confidence to be safe in water.
Sheila is the Boys & Girls Club After-School Enrichment site director for St. Patrick’s Catholic School. She plans and provides after-school enrichment services for St. Pat’s students. The enrichment program has an active academic component coupled with enrichment activities, character development, life skills and leadership development. After conducting a brief survey of parents/ guardians of Boys and Girls Club After-School Enrichment Program students, she discovered that most of the students at St. Pat’s had little to no exposure to pools and swimming. She reached out to the YMCA and inquired about swim lessons. That one phone call has turned into a significant partnership that includes The Boys & Girls Club, St. Patrick’s School and the Springfield YMCA.
This partnership is in its second year and is offered to all St. Pat’s students from kindergarten to fourth grade. In 2017, there were thirty-eight children enrolled. As with many programs, transportation is an issue that precludes individuals from participating. Sheila and her staff go above and beyond to make sure these children get to the YMCA. She and her dedicated program assistant, Chrisy Taylor, make several trips to and from the YMCA to get them to their lessons on time. When all the kids get there, it is finally time to sit back and watch the progress these kids make from the first lesson to the last. Sheila’s dedication to the program doesn’t stop while she’s at work. She feels so strongly about the program that she takes the 38 wet suits home to wash. Sheila said, “This program feeds our soul because it provides a valuable opportunity and a life skill for these children.” She is amazed at the progress these kids make in such a short time. Some of the kids show up to the first lesson afraid and hesitant to even be on the pool deck. By the end, some are jumping in with full confidence. Sheila and her staff are impressed with the staff and services at the YMCA and commends them for their patience, direction, and ability to connect to these kids.
Tara Crowley, YMCA Aquatics Director loves this program and looks forward to it each week. She said, “When Sheila approached me about this, I knew we had to do it. I talked to management and they agreed we could underwrite some of the costs to make this more affordable for them. I am happy to say that 100% of the kids who participated in the program have the knowledge necessary to be safe around water. The kids who are in their second year with the program are swimming the full length of the pool and having a great time doing it.”
Teaching children to be safe around water is not a luxury; it is a necessity. The YMCA of Springfield is honored to be part of this partnership. We applaud the Boys & Girls Club and St. Pat’s school for understanding and recognizing the importance of keeping children in our community safe around water.