Giving Kids a Place to Learn and Grow
They come every Friday afternoon at about 3:30 pm; in a rush of boisterous laughter, happy chatter and contagious energy. Their smiles are infectious, and I can’t help but smile as I watch them pass by. They stop only briefly for a snack and instructions, and then they’re off. Although they want to run down the hall at break-neck speed, knocking others over in their quest to get to their destination, they use their self-control and behave like young ladies and gentlemen.
Many of these children have experienced great sadness in their lives. They’ve lived in neighborhoods in which gun-fire is a regular occurrence. They’ve come home from school to empty homes, and waited for hours until an adult arrives. They’ve lost fathers, brothers, uncles and friends to drugs, alcohol and crime. They’re here so they can be children for a while; so they can leave the worries behind, and forget the sadness. They’re here to have fun, but also to learn.
In children under the age of 14 years, accidental drowning is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and an estimated 800 children are lost each year in drowning deaths. In an area that is almost completely surrounded by water; in pools, lakes, rivers, and the oceanfront, there is a greater risk. Further, in children from neighborhoods in which there are no swimming pools or swim lessons being taught, the risk is even greater. These children are here at the Great Bridge/Hickory Family YMCA each Friday because we hope that they will never become a statistic.
Some of the children have never been in a swimming pool, and there is a slight hesitation; even a little fear at first. Soon, however, the smiles, the splashing and the giggles begin. The first step is gaining the confidence to put faces in the water, and learning how to hold their breath. Once that is mastered, they learn basic swim strokes. Before long, there is an eagerness to learn more, but they’re learning more than they even know. While they gain self-esteem, and learn to be disciplined, they also learn to respect others. They’re learning to care for each other, and to have faith in themselves and in others. They’re learning to be stronger, safer, and healthier. They’re learning to be happier.