With May as National Water Safety Month, Judi Christy of the Akron Area YMCA, shares about the Safety Around Water education program.
Before I started working at the Y, I had absolutely no idea there were different types of drowning. When I heard or read of a drowning, I assumed the victim had perished. If they had, this would be reported as a fatal drowning. However, if the person experienced respiratory impairment from submersion or immersion in liquid, but survived to tell the tale, this would be classified, no surprise, as a non-fatal drowning.
The outcomes are different but the facts are not. According to the U.S. Consumers and Safety Commission, there are approximately 4,000 fatal and unintentional drownings per year. That’s 11 drowning deaths per day. Additionally, the stats report 8,000 non-fatal drownings occur per year, thus also doubling the number of daily non-fatal reports at 22.
This doesn’t consider the number of folks who start choking because water “goes down the wrong pipe,” which apparently is a real thing and not a wives’ tale told to young parents who are reminded it only takes a teaspoon of water to drown.
For now, I’ll focus on the prior numbers – 4,000 actual deaths per year. 11 deaths per day. Who are these victims? Sadly, most of them are children.
In the U.S., drowning is a leading cause of death for children. More children ages one to four die from drowning than any other cause of death. For children ages five to 14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death after motor vehicle crashes. But, as I mentioned, not all drownings result in death. Many of those surviving the incident are left with brain damage and other serious outcomes, including long-term disability and post-traumatic stress.
Over the last several years, our community has experienced several instances of children drowning, thus prompting a full-fledged emphasis on a program called Safety Around Water.
The YMCA has always provided swimming lessons. It’s sort of our thing. But the Safety Around Water program was started to tap into those in our community who did not have a Y membership or perhaps other resources, like transportation, to partake in the many lessons offered at our branches.
Partnering with area elementary schools, community centers, churches and other nonprofits like Akron Children’s Hospital, our Safety Around Water program has brought lifesaving skills to children in our community, many of whom fall into the demographics most at risk – minority families.
Year after year, drowning death rates for Black individuals are 1.5 times higher than the rates for white individuals. Disparities are highest among Black children ages five to nine (rates 2.6 times higher) and ages 10-14 (rates 3.6 times higher).
White children are most likely to drown in home swimming pools, while Black children and adults are most likely to drown in public pools, lakes, ponds and rivers.
Add to that, many Black adults have never learned to swim due to the inability of formal lessons when they were young, or in some cases, the segregation or actual closing of pools in schools or community centers most frequented by minority groups. The inability to learn to swim has also caused a common fear of water for not only themselves but for their children.
The bottom line is more people need to learn how to swim – or at the very least – have the skills to get to safety if they find themselves in water due to falling in accidentally, being pushed or being dared. But swimming lessons, although extremely important, can be cost prohibitive.
That’s where our area Y, a leading charity, can offer financial assistance for our Safety Around Water program, a free eight-week water safety session. Community partners like the Akron Area YMCA, in cooperation with Akron Community Foundation, Premier Bank, Akron Children’s Hospital, the City of Akron, Akron Public Schools, and Akron Recreation Bureau, are committed to providing the YMCA’s Safety Around Water program to all Akron Public School students through the fourth grade.
A typical 40-minute Safety Around Water session includes:
- Exercises to help kids adjust to being in water.
- Instruction in “jump, push, turn, grab” and “swim, float, swim,” two skill sets kids can use if they unexpectedly find themselves in the water.
- Specific safety topics like what to do if you see someone in the water who needs help.
- Fun activities that reinforce skills.
In 2023, our Safety Around Water sessions expanded to include adults, mostly in minority populations, who have never learned swimming or water safety skills.
Students from young parents to a 75-year-old grandmother completed the first session. They can not only help protect their family members but also enjoy the confidence of recreational swimming.
The bold yet reachable goal of the Safety Around Water education program for the Akron Area YMCA is to totally eliminate drownings in our community. With May being National Water Safety Month, we are eager to continue our quest to keep everyone’s head above water.