YMCA’s SOS swimming program teaches kids how to save themselves in the water

by: Andrew Coakley, Sports Editor

It may seem ironic that the week Karon Johnson, Executive Director of the YMCA was doing an interview with The Freeport News to talk about the restart of this year’s SOS swimming program, The Bahamas was making waves in Aruba, on their way to claiming the country’s first CARIFTA Swimming Championships.

It may only seem like a coincidence.

But when you consider that a number of the Grand Bahamian swimmers on this year’s CARIFTA Swimming national team got their start at the YMCA’s SOS program and we can see why they were on a collision course with greatness.

In fact, asked if she felt that many of the kids who took part in the SOS program ever moved on to swim competitively, Karon named a few of whom were a part of this year’s swimming team and who were on other national swimming teams.

“Many of our top swimmers got their start in the Y’s SOS program, and we’re proud to be a small part of that,” Johnson said.

When you consider that The Bahamas finished with a total of 55 medals at this year’s CARIFTA Games, some of that success must find its place in the Swimming for Ocean Survival (SOS) Swimming program.

It is the program where youngsters from Kindergarten to grade six learn the basics of swimming and not for competition, but for survival.

The SOS program is designed to give youngsters the basics of swimming.

Karon likes to say that the program’s goal is to benefit a kid who may accidentally fall into a pool or into the sea.

“What we teach them kicks in if something like that happens,” said Johnson.

On an island surrounded by water, the possibility of something like that taking place is a bigger percentage than any of us would like to admit.

Reports of kids drowning while on a class picnic or from falling into a pool by accident continue to show up in news headlines.

Whether she knows it or not, the YMCA’s SOS program is a vital part of the community and while for Karon Johnson, it is the Y’s way of giving back to the community, the truth is the program is saving lives.

“At first a lot of parents did not see the need for the program and so they would not let their kids participate, but over the years more and more parents are beginning to see the value of the program,” said Johnson.

You would think that many parents opted not to have their child learn how to swim because it would be too costly to pay for such lessons.

However, and here’s the unbelievable news, the SOS program at the YMCA is free!

Yes, kids can learn the basics of swimming, in a well-managed, well coached environment and it won’t cost parents a dollar. (Well, if we want to be technical, it costs kids a dollar for the bus ride from their respective schools to the YMCA swimming pool).

Perhaps some parents have no idea just how much swimming lessons can cost.

“We see this as our Christian duty and the YMCA’s community outreach to give back to the community that supports us,” said Johnson.

“Besides, we did not want any kid to not be able to participate in the program because of a lack of funds, that’s why we’ve made the program free of charge. We want every child to be a part of the program because we believe that it is valuable.

“Thanks to some valuable donors and sponsors we are able to offer this program free of charge to Grand Bahamian kids. One of the biggest priorities for us is safety and we focus on that in this program because we know that we’re dealing with small kids. 

“So, we ensure that all of our coaches are well trained and certified for this program and we always, always have adequate coaches for each session.”

The new season for the SOS program got underway on April 7 and it has enlisted 13 schools on the island, with a total of over 1,100 kids participating in the program.

The end of this swimming season will mark five years since the YMCA has launched this free swimming program.

Johnson said that unfortunately this year they are unable to expand the program into the other two pools at schools in Grand Bahama, because of a lack of funding. 

However, BMES has made arrangements with the YMCA to have the program continue there with the school paying the instructors.

“We will introduce a stroke school part of the program there at that school, which will allow us to create now a pool of competitive swimmers,” said Johnson.

While the basic idea of the SOS program has been, and always will be to teach kids how to survive if they found themselves in a pool or in the sea, Johnson said that the program, which is really an introduction to swimming for many of the kids, encourages many kids to go on and take up swimming as a sport.

That helps to create a bigger pool of swimmers in the country, many of whom will go on and compete locally, nationally and internationally.

Johnson said that the kids are excited about the swimming program and their excitement shows every time they arrive at the pool.

“You can see the excitement on their faces and they love the idea of getting into that pool,” said Johnson.  “That’s the beauty of the SOS program, because even though it is a structured class, it’s still fun.”

Karon pointed out that five years ago only those who could have afforded to pay for their kids to learn how to swim got that opportunity. 

But thanks to the YMCA’s SOS program, learning the basics of swimming is free to every child whose school is signed up for the program.

Published  Monday, April 28, 2014

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