YMCA of Austin hoping resumption of popular swim programs curb deadly drownings

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — YMCA of Austin typically serves more than 10,000 kids per year with its swimming lessons in Central Texas, but with the pandemic gripping the area last summer, very few took lessons — and that has some folks worried about a potential increase in drownings.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas has 1.37 drownings per 100,000 people annually on average. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services says 80 children died from drowning in 2020, and 31 have died this year. Sean Doles with YMCA of Austin says his organization is committed to helping lower those numbers.

“The Y offers affordable rates as well as financial assistance for people on limited budgets so that price is not a barrier,” Doles said. “We also run several free programs such as Project SAFE in conjunction with Austin ISD and other districts as well as with partners such as the Boys & Girls Club. Since its inception, Project SAFE has taught more than 17,000 kids how to swim and be safe in and around the water – for free.”

There’s high demand for lessons this summer, and Doles said YMCA does its best to make cost not a barrier that keeps kids from learning how to swim.

“Many just don’t realize how big of a risk that drowning poses,” Doles said. “But it’s the leading cause of death for children one to four years of age and is the second leading cause of death for children from five to 14 years old.”

At the national level, YMCA received a donation of $250,000 to help expand its swimming lessons that already teach the most lessons nationwide, said Eric Tucker, president and CEO of the Arlington-Mansfield YMCA in North Texas. He told KXAS in Dallas that the high demand is simply due to parents worrying about their kids after not being able to take lessons last year.

In Travis County, a 4-year-old girl died after she drowned in a hotel pool in 2021. So far, that has been the only child drowning death reported in the county. Doles stressed the importance of learning how to swim, no matter how young or old someone is.

“It’s never too late to learn how to swim,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re six months, six years or 60 years old.”

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