Duval campaign doubles to prevent drownings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Often times, pools and kids can be a scary mix. In fact, the Sunshine state leads the country in drowning deaths of children ages one to four, according to the State Health Department.

Now, one campaign is giving life-saving lessons to Duval county children who otherwise, might not get the chance. The campaign is called, Waterproof Jacksonville and it is ensuring that dozens of children stay above the water.

Zyaire Hudson is a second-grader who is benefiting from the program.

"I'd like to tell you a little bit [about it]," said Zyaire. "There's the starfish glow and the back-glide."

He is describing some swimming strokes that he is learning from lifeguard volunteers with Waterproof Jacksonville. In 2014, the campaign is serving more than 1,500 students, which is double the number of children they served in 2013.

For Zyaire, the program eases his fears about the water.

He said, "[I am happy that] I can float and I won't drown."

Pam Roman, spokesperson for JaxParks says the program is extremely important to Duval families who are suffering financially.

"Learning how to swim has been life-saving and that's a fact and that's a statistic that's been proven over and over and for these low-income kids, it could be a matter of life and death," Roman said.

This year, the program grew exponentially due to a major $25,000 donation from Jacksonville lawyer, Wayne Hogan.

"For me, it's a matter of being engaged in this community, and wanting this community to be better," said Hogan. "[It's also to] avoid the kinds of tragedies that are all too common all across Florida."

According to the Health Department, Florida leads the U.S. in unintentional drownings with 1,055 unintentional drownings from 2011 to 2013. In Duval County, there were 35 unintentional drownings during that time period. Duval County ranks 10th highest in the state for unintentional drownings, with Broward County leading.

The American Red Cross recently released findings from its latest study, which states 10 people die each day from unintentional drowning in the United States. According to the findings, 20 percent are children 14-years-old or younger.

For Hogan, the donation is personal. He says his Saint Augustine YMCA swim lessons prepared him to save his mother from a potential tragedy, years ago.

"My mother got in trouble at a run-out at the beach and I was able to help her and now I want these kids to have the same opportunity to not only be able to help themselves but help a friend," Hogan said.

Parents in Duval County are hoping other children get the same opportunity.

Carolyn Wyche's daughter is taking the free swimming lessons.

"I wish that this program was available to every child in the state of Florida," said Wyche. "Some people don't have either the time or the transportation or the financial means to get their children to a location where they can learn to navigate the waters. This program saves lives."

So, how can you enroll your child? According to Roman, your child must be a Duval County resident in kindergarten through age 15. They must be an McKay recipient or child of active-duty military member or a family of low-income.

To enroll your child in the program or see qualifications: CLICK HERE

Other options?

"You reach out to the city because they have scholarship programs and the YMCA does have scholarship programs and you can always call us and we can try to match your child," Roman said.

Roman says Waterproof Jax is looking for more funding, in order to increase free lessons throughout the summer and double lessons once again, by the summer of 2015.


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