Everyone is looking for a way to escape the heat and celebrate the many summer holidays, and swimming is a great way to do this. In order to ensure that this is done safely, the American Red Cross trains lifeguards, water safety instructors and more. Louisiana has one of the highest child drowning rates, so water safety is an especially important cause.
New Orleanian Latoya Kelly was inspired to improve these odds in her area following the drowning death of her sister. Recognizing that many children in her city never receive swim lessons, she established an annual water safety instruction program available to anyone needing these skills. Normally a $300 course, Kelly and her partners are able to offer these 40-minute lessons for free over five weekdays thanks to a sponsorship from the Gulf Coast Bank.
“It started when my little sister, Ashley, drowned in Lake Pontchartrain because we didn't know how to swim,” said Kelly.“I thought it was important that other kids learn how to swim so they don’t have to suffer that same fate. So I got with the Red Cross and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and together we birthed the Ashley Kelly Swimming Program (AKSP).”
The 16th annual Ashley Kelly Swim Program was held May 21 through 25 and helped approximately 100 people of all ages, not just children, feel more comfortable and be more responsible in the water. It used instructors trained in water safety by the Red Cross to teach participants how to swim, promote water safety, and keep the water clean. Five major swim skills were stressed in the program:
1. Stepping or jumping into water over your head.
2. Returning to the surface.
3. Treading water for one minute.
4. Turning around in a full circle and finding an exit.
5. Swimming 25 yards without stopping, and exiting from the water.
The Red Cross supports the AKSP through a week of free training for the instructors the week before the program. The goal of all this pre-emptive action is to reduce the drowning rate and making pools and lakes fun and safe like they are meant to be.
“We have so many different people that volunteer to do this out of their own free time – I think that’s awesome,” says Kelly. “That’s the part the Red Cross plays in [the program].”
For Local Swim Instructors and Lessons, click here.