The West Cook YMCA is offering water safety lessons for 300 second- and third-graders enrolled in public school in Forest Park, River Forest and Maywood, as a way to reduce the risk of drowning and increase confidence around water. Students who enroll in the free class will receive a free membership to the Y, and their parents will receive free passes to the organization too.  

“Seventy percent of the globe is water, and 100 percent of kids are curious,” said Phillip Jimenez, president of the West Cook Y. “It’s right before the summertime. It’s not only just about safety. What if you get invited to a pool party and maybe a youth is then excluded from those activities? How does that isolate a child from other experiences and opportunities? How do we create recreational passion for aquatics?”

The West Cook Y came up with the idea to offer free water safety lessons in May 2018, after reflecting on its strategic goal to increase accessibility to programs that reduce inequities, particularly among youth. 

Drowning is the second most common cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And children from lower-income families are five times more likely to drown. Sixty percent of children who drown are within 10 feet of safety, and 60 percent of youth drownings occur in 10 feet of water.    

“It’s teaching them literally what to do if they fall in a body of water,” Jimenez said. “So if a young person gets into a body of water that’s seemingly endless, they have the wherewithal to be calm and all that.” 

The organization received a grant from the USA Swimming Foundation, and allocated $60,000 of their own funding to bring the program to life.

Last year, West Cook partnered with Forest Park District 91 and River Forest District 90 schools to introduce the now-annual Power Scholars Academy, a program designed to tackle summer learning loss and foster social and emotional growth. It has also worked with Forest Park schools to offer free after-school enrichment for primary students, as well as care for preschool students.  

Jimenez said the YMCA is currently focusing on serving youth in Forest Park, Maywood, Melrose Park and Broadview “since those communities have the most obvious need. Obviously in every community there’s inequity, but we really wanted to start where it was more acute.” The Y, he said, aims to eventually grow its academic achievement gap programming to River Forest and Oak Park.  

“It’s great to work, in an environment in today’s context, in which folks are more focused on breaking down barriers to create access,” Jimenez said. 

The five summer sessions start June 10 and run for 40 minutes every Monday through Thursday. Email to sign up.