Charleston County, City taking steps to ensure water safety

Charleston County, City taking steps to ensure water safety
Published: May. 25, 2016 at 10:42 PM EDT
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70 swimsuits donated to Splash into Summer event (Source: Live 5)
70 swimsuits donated to Splash into Summer event (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - With a holiday weekend ahead and Summer vacation around the corner for students, Lowcountry water safety experts urge you to be prepared when out on or near the water, especially with the recent drowning in our area of a toddler.

The City of Charleston is hosting its annual "Splash into Summer" event at the Martin Luther King Jr. swimming pool in downtown Charleston Saturday, May 28.

From noon until 2 p.m. the public is encouraged to come out and learn more about water safety and have the chance to win prizes.

Jennifer Ayers-Millar, Aquatics Manager with the City, said they will be handing out summer swim passes for the family and individuals.

Ayers-Millar added there's been an outpouring of support from the community.

Wednesday afternoon a man donated 70 swimsuits towards the cause, 35 suits for boys and 35 suits for girls. He also donated 30 goggles.

"I had heard that a lot of kids couldn't use the pool because they didn't have swimsuits and goggles," said Patrick Marr. "I wanted to give something back so the kids could have an outlet in this neighborhood."

This also comes after he said a four-year-old had an unfortunate incident at a pool in his apartment complex.

"Charleston is surrounded by water, so learning how to swim is hugely important," said Nikki Bowie, the safety program manager for the Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.

The Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission has several programs aimed at teaching the public about water safety.

Since 2013 the commission has brought a portable pool to four sites during the summer to teach kids how to swim.

Wednesday students at Jane Edwards Elementary School took part in the lessons.

"Here at Jane Edwards, every single student has gotten swim lessons," Bowie said. "So they go through eight 30 minute swim lessons."

Over the last three years, more than 1,200 kids who live in rural areas, like Edisto Island, have learned how to swim in the portable pool.

Bowie and the instructors believe teaching kids water safety at a young age is crucial.

"I started swimming when I was probably four," said Emma Rogers, a swim instructor. "A lot of the instructors talk about how we can't remember a time where we didn't know how to swim. That's what we're trying to do, to get these kids where they won't remember not knowing how to swim."

National statistics from the Make a Splash Foundation show nine people drown in the US everyday.

Recently a three-and-half-year-old boy drowned in the James Island County Park.

Instructors say stories like that hit them hard.

"That's when we know we need to work harder," Rogers said. "We need to do more. We need to make sure that we're getting the word out, especially about water safety."

"It's a shame that it takes such a tragedy to bring such awareness to the problem," Ayers-Millar added.

"Nevada isn't afraid of water," said Octavia Shine. "She'll definitely jump in."

Shine's daughter Nevada, is three-years-old. She also has a son nine-months old. Both children are learning how to swim at the MLK, Jr. pool.

City of Charleston pools have openings for swim lessons this summer.

W.L. Stephens Aquatic Center, in West Ashley, and the James Island Pool are completely filled for the first two sessions from June 6-16 and June 20-30, but Ayers-Millar said there are plenty of spots available at the MLK, Jr. and Herbert Hasell Pools.

"You should have them (your kids) prepared now just in case something happens," Shine urged.

It costs $30 for youth classes ($40 non-resident), $25 for parent-tot ($35 non-resident), and $35 for adult ($45 non-resident).

"We do have grant money and scholarships for people who aren't able to afford that fee," Ayers-Millar said.

The County is also trying to address the drowning problem through the Genesis Project. Money raised goes toward building and maintaining the three rural pools in the County while also offering safety programs. It was created to honor the life of 13-year-old Genesis Holmes who drowned in 2014.

Make a Splash Foundation statistics show 69% of African American kids, 58% of Hispanic kids, and 42% Caucasian kids do not know how to swim. May is National Water Safety Month across the country.

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