No matter the venue – at swimming pools, rivers, lakes and oceans – water safety and drowning prevention is a universal concern. And, research studies point to a gap in equity for minorities and low income households when it comes to accessing swim lessons to keep young people safe. According to a national study by USA Swimming, research indicates two out of three African-American and Hispanic children cannot swim. Veronica Stewart, a 17-year-old lifeguard from Henrico, Virginia, set out on a mission to change the odds for minority youth by mobilizing volunteer resources to teach them how.
Veronica’s amazing story began while researching community service opportunities to earn her Girl Scout Gold Award. “My passion for swimming led me to become a lifeguard,” Veronica explains. “I learned a lot about water safety, and at the same time I also realized the lack of knowledge many people had about this important life skill and realized how dangerous this was especially for children.”
Partnering with a local summer camp, Veronica created a scholarship program for low income minority children to give them instruction. The effort is supported by local businesses that she approached for donations. Veronica teaches swimming lessons and helps the campers – 60 children aged 2 through 10 – feel more at ease in the water. Lorna Pope, a local parent, describes what Veronica’s work has meant for her son:
“A few years ago my five year old, Malachi, almost drowned. Up until he took Veronica’s class he was terrified to get in the water. The help that she has given him has made a huge difference!”
To reach more families and spread the word on an issue she cares about, Veronica created a Facebook page titled “Water Safety for Children,” complete with articles, statistics and resources to help educate families. She also volunteered with two local elementary schools to teach a water safety program that was folded into each school’s annual curriculum. Veronica even spearheaded a project in conjunction with YMCA’s “learn to swim” program that collected nearly 500 bathing suits for inner city second-graders. In all, Veronica estimates she spent 130 hours getting these programs an up and running. Now, the programs have become self-sustaining through support from other volunteers in her community.
“It is a rewarding experience being able to change the future of someone’s life by teaching a skill they will never forget, and in turn they will teach their children,” Veronica says. “You get so much more in life when you give to someone else, and at same time build confidence in yourself as you complete the challenges and see the results!”
Translating her passion for community outreach and water recreation into a sustainable program to make her community more informed, Veronica Stewart is a shining example of what it means to be a Daily Point of Light.
Where do you see positive change happening in your community? Share the story of a volunteer or an organization doing a great job with voluntary programs by submitting a nomination for the Daily Point of Light Award at http://www.pointsoflight.org/programs/recognition/dpol/nomination