MTSU’s Campus Recreation Center and Murfreesboro-based nonprofit Howard’s Hope have built a special partnership in two years’ time.
The university’s large indoor pool is perfect for Howard’s Hope, which provides swimming lessons to underserved youth in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County and other areas in Tennessee with a mission of combating accidental drowning among children and youth.
With the opening of the MTSU outdoor pool and the two-week Howard’s Hope “Flying Fish” swim lesson sessions nearing, MTSU aquatic coordinator Pam Footit acknowledges “a critical need” to hire more American Red Cross-certified lifeguards.
“Howard’s Hope has so many great stories — from children overcoming the fear of water to learning swim strokes and possibly becoming a member of a swim team — but we are desperate for lifeguards,” Footit said.
“We typically have 25 to 30 lifeguards by this time, but we still don’t have the numbers. If we don’t have lifeguards, we can’t offer the program.”
Footit recognizes the shortage of lifeguards at both local and national levels. It stems from the American Red Cross implementing a more “rigorous, stringent” course nationally starting Jan. 3, making it tougher for prospective guards to become certified.
In March, she reached out to area high schools regarding the Flying Fish program and the need for lifeguards. An American Red Cross certification class ended May 31 with only three new lifeguards graduating.
Flying Fish summer swim lessons at MTSU are scheduled June 12-23 and June 26-July 7 for as many as 120 children ages 6 to 12. The lessons are free or needs-based, depending on parents’ income. No lessons will be held Tuesday, July 4.
To learn more about the Howard’s Hope swim lesson opportunities, visit www.howardshope.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howard’s Hope founder and executive director Steve Reeves said many people do not realize drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children younger than 5 and the second leading cause of death for children younger than 14.
“Studies indicate a significant number of juvenile drowning victims, particularly those from low-income households, have never had access to safe water and have never learned how to swim,” he said.
“The partnership between Howard’s Hope and MTSU addresses both of those issues by providing organized swim lessons, in a controlled environment, for needy children in Rutherford County,” he added.
“It’s a goal of both organizations to be proactive in the area of juvenile drownings and work toward reducing the number of Tennessee children lost each year in aquatic accidents.”
Swim lessons for underserved youth “are a burden on his heart,” Footit said of Reeves. “He and his wife have a child who nearly drowned.”
“We almost lost our 4-year-old daughter in our family’s pool during a birthday party,” Reeves explained. “I saw her lying on the bottom of the pool and jumped in to pull her to the surface.”
Reeves is an MTSU Department of Aerospace flight simulator instructor, an entrepreneur, retired airline pilot and an MTSU student working toward his master’s degree in aviation management.
Howard’s Hope has partnerships with Vanderbilt University and the University of Memphis, along with and the parks and recreation departments in Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Shelbyville and Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Reeves has recruited a number of sponsors to pay for water safety instructors, Footit said.
For more on MTSU’s aquatics program, including pool hours, swim lesson opportunities and more, visit www.mtsu.edu/camprec/aquatics.
The Campus Recreation Center, which is a part of the Division of Student Affairs, is in the Student Health, Wellness and Recreation Center. Ray Wiley, Campus Recreation Center associate director and a 23-year MTSU employee, serves on the Howard’s Hope board of directors.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)