Manitoba

Ready, Set, Swim! Program offers free lessons to low-income families, newcomers

Ready, Set, Swim aims to remove financial and cultural barriers when it comes to teaching children to swim.

Foundation aims to combat Manitoba's worst-in-the-country child drowning rates

Rishona Hyman and her children, Gregory and Izzie, at the launch of the Ready, Set, Swim Foundation. (Jaison Empson/ CBC)

Drowning is 100 per cent preventable.

That's the thought that crosses Rishona Hyman's mind every time she reads the news about another drowning in Manitoba.

The longtime swim instructor wanted to eliminate the financial barriers that sometimes prevent people from getting lessons, so she created the Ready, Set, Swim Foundation

"I think the final straw for me was when I had the experience to teach Grade 3 kids at their school and two out of 18 of them had formal swimming lessons," said Hyman.  "None of them knew how to swim."

Hyman said the new program will offer lessons free of charge to low-income families and newcomers.

It will hold three eight-week sessions a year. Each class will have a ratio of four students to each instructor. The kids will be grouped according to age and skill level.

She said students ages six to 18 will be accepted by referral and will be given a swimsuit, towel, bag and shampoo.

'It's heartbreaking'

"It's really important. I have seen so many kids come to pools with just their plastic bag, it's heartbreaking," she said.

On top of removing financial barriers, Ready, Set, Swim aims to remove cultural ones as well. Bathing suits will be culturally appropriate if necessary and translators will be brought in to assist both the kids and their parents.

"We are going to have a classroom component for the parents or guardians a couple times over the session where we will talk to them and teach them about water safety," said Hyman.

The foundation will partner with newcomer organizations to get families signed up. Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services (NEEDS) started a swim program last year after three newcomers drowned in Manitoba.

"We served over 50 kids last year through our swim program and we have a ton of kids on the waiting list," said Jennifer Tomsich, who runs the Youth After School Program.

Tomsich said she will be referring kids to Ready, Set, Swim and applauds the parental component of the program.

"When they go to the beach or anywhere there is water, they will have the supervision skills and know what to look for in the future," she said.

Highest drowning rates

The Lifesaving Society says when small children drown, supervision is often an issue. Acting CEO Kevin Tordiffe said Manitoba has the highest drowning rate of children under four in Canada.

"Initiatives like this that strive to bring swimming to all those who need it are very important in our community," said Tordiffe.

Hyman will be teaching the Lifesaving Society's Swim to Survive program. She said if a student isn't able to swim without a life-jacket after eight weeks of 30-minute lessons they will continue into the next session.

She said right now the foundation is focusing on fundraising to pay its instructors and buy swim supplies. It plans to hold the first free session in the new year. 

Program offers free lessons to low-income families, newcomers. 1:28

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