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Swim program fueled by volunteers
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Thanks to around 50 dedicated volunteers, the local Red Cross Learn to Swim program is staying afloat.
Swim lessons began Monday night at Gilley Pool with some 300 children taking part in the first two-week session. Around 200 children and adults are registered for the second two-week session which starts July 22.
“We couldn’t do this without the volunteers,” said Jean Gilley, who has been involved with Red Cross swim lessons since 1974. Gilley Pool was named for Jean and her late husband, Bill.
Added local Red Cross director Kathy Nesmith, “At a time when so many communities are having to shut down their Learn to Swim programs due to lack of volunteers, our program continues to keep going strong. Volunteers like we have are a dying breed.”
The children are the ones who benefit as they learn the valuable life skill of swimming. The swim lessons are offered free of charge.
Asked her favorite part of going in the water, 7-year-old Olivia Martin didn’t hesitate.
“Doing a cannonball,” she said.
Cooper Brown, 7, began his second year of swim lessons Monday and is a strong swimmer for his age. He loved to leap off the high dive last year at Gilley Pool before it was removed for safety concerns and he has even jumped from a high cliff into a lake.
“I jumped off a rock that was 30 feet tall at Rock Island,” said Cooper. “I almost chickened out.”
Kalia Stewart, 6, says she has already become pretty talented in the pool.
“I can swim with my eyes open under water,” she said.
Nesmith said the goal is to get the children comfortable with being in the water and to possibly save their life one day.
“We want them to improve and get stronger with their swim strokes, but the No. 1 goal is we want them to save their life if they have to,” said Nesmith. “Saving their own life is the first goal and saving someone else’s life is the second.”
Nesmith doesn’t get in the water as a hands-on instructor, but provides valuable administrative duties through the Red Cross.
“We throw Kathy in if we need an anchor,” joked Kyle Phillips, who is in charge of this year’s Learn to Swim program with his wife, Becky.
Kyle said children are a lot easier to coax into the water than adults who don’t know how to swim. He said the adult lessons present a different set of challenges.
“We have some who don’t even want to walk in the shallow end and get their feet wet,” he said.
The swim lessons are one of the primary functions of the Red Cross when it comes to its public safety offerings. The organization is best known for its blood services and disaster relief.