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Red Cross keeps free swimming lessons afloat
Instructor Cheryl Black talks to young students during class at Gilley Pool on Monday.

The Red Cross may have closed its McMinnville office, but there are no plans to discontinue free swim lessons offered each year by the organization.
Learn to Swim director Robyn Kirby says 490 people were served this summer with no plans to let the program sink.
“We have to do a lot of paperwork that people in the office used to do, but that’s about the only difference,” said Kirby. “We plan to keep it going because it’s so valuable to the community. It’s one of the last free swim lessons offered anywhere in the country.”
Kirby says free swim lessons are available thanks to the efforts of dozens of volunteers. She said about 80 people volunteered this year to make the month of swim lessons possible.
“Everybody has a different reason for volunteering,” said Kirby. “Some have been through the program themselves and want to give back. One lady was swimming in an area near where a child drowned and it made a lasting impact so that’s the reason she volunteers.”
Cheryl Black has volunteered with the Learn to Swim program for the past 15 years. She teaches all age groups from children to adults.
“I really like teaching the adults because they pay such close attention and because they really appreciate what they’re learning,” said Black. “They realize it’s a skill that’s going to help them in life. I had one person tell me they didn’t have to sit on the beach anymore, that now they could go in the water. They go from being petrified at the start of the class to swimming under water by the end of it. It’s awesome.”
Kirby said it may seem daunting for some people to volunteer for a month of swim lessons, but she said any amount of time is welcome, even if it’s just volunteering for one night. She praised several JROTC students at the high school for their assistance and said it’s something more students should consider as they’re faced with earning volunteer hours as part of the Tennessee Promise scholarship program.
Kirby also praised the city for providing three lifeguards to monitor the pool during swim lessons, something she says is a first.
“It’s a little extra peace of mind to have extra eyes watching the water,” said Kirby.
The second two-week session ends tonight at Gilley Pool. For more information about volunteering for next year, call 808-7417.