Olympic Champions Step Up to Help Provide Low-Cost Swimming Lessons to Underserved Children

This June 2015 photo provided by the USA Swimming Foundation shows Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones giving a swimming lesson to a child in Nederland, Texas, as part of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program. (USA Swimming Foundation via AP)

Missy Franklin, Cullen Jones, Rowdy Gaines and a handful of other Olympic champions are climbing into the pool this summer to help American kids learn how to swim.

They’ve got plenty of work to do.

The USA Swimming Foundation’s most recent survey, released Thursday, found nearly 64 percent of African-American kids, 45 percent of Hispanic kids and 79 percent of children in families that bring in less than $50,000 in annual income have little or no swimming ability.

The foundation is issuing $324,000 in grants this year to its Make A Splash program, which will help fund reduced-cost swim lessons to more than 25,000 children at 71 pools across 25 states. The foundation has provided more than $4.3 million since 2007 to help fund learn-to-swim programs across the country.

“We need to keep a sustained effort to introduce children to swimming and drive the important message that learning to swim can save your life,” said USA Swimming Foundation executive director Debbie Hesse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people drown every day in the United States, and about a quarter of those are younger than 14. The CDC says African-American children drown at a rate nearly 5.5 times higher than white children.

The study released Thursday is a follow-up to one first conducted in 2010 by researchers at the University of Memphis in 2010. In that survey, 70 percent of African-American children and nearly 60 percent of Hispanics had little or no swimming ability. The numbers have improved slightly over the past seven years, though they still paint a harrowing picture on this, the eve of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of swim season

“The end goal is to create real solutions designed to ensure children are safer in the water, especially minority youths who are at a higher risk for drowning,” said Carol Irwin, the study’s principal investigator.

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