About 40 kids were recognized for their participation Friday morning, even the mayor came to watch.
It was a program that stems from one man's passion. He's a parks board member and he wants all kids to know how to swim, even if their families don't have the money to pay for lessons.
Kids and pool- a classic summertime combo. The young swimmers have been in the water a lot lately. Four days a week for the past two weeks.
"I learned how to do nose bubbles. I learned how to swim like that," said Tyson Weed, a swim lessons graduate.
"We've learned breaststroke, butterfly, how to dive and freestyle," another graduate Alexia Joyner said.
Sisters Alexia and Gabrielle Joyner are two of 80 kids who've benefited from special swimming lessons this summer at Evansville's Rochelle-Landers Pool.
"We work and then we have fun doing the same work," Gabrielle told 14 News.
"They do it first and then we like follow after them and we just start having fun doing it," Alexia said.
And their hours of practice have paid off. Their graduating.
The unique part about this ceremony? Every child being recognized is here at no cost.
Evansville Parks Board Member Jerome Stewart started the free lessons four years ago and helps pay for them out of his own pocket.
"I wanted to make a difference and make sure that these young people when they come to the center city pool that they know how to swim," Stewart said.
In 2010, the University of Memphis surveyed kids in several large cities. They found well over half of Hispanic and African American children said they either couldn't swim well or couldn't swim at all. That was a much higher percentage compared to Caucasian children.
"So many times kids think because they can tread water in the neighborhood pool that they know how to swim, yet they do not have any formal training," Stewart said.
Since the lessons began about 200 kids have sharpened their strokes. Most of them from Evansville's inner-city.
"When you learn something at a young age, it stays with you. So this is something that they will be able to take with them throughout their lives and some of them continue to come back each year, so they build on that," Stewart told 14 News.
"It's important because if you're stranded somewhere, like in the middle of the ocean or something, then you need to know how to swim to get to safety or something," Alexia said.
"I do think it's important that we know how to swim as African Americans, cause sometimes we don't always get this kind of opportunity."
Lori Boyd is a single mom and paying for swimming lessons for her two kids wasn't an option. So for the past two summers, she's taken them there.
"I think it's very beneficial. It gives them the confidence to keep wanting to learn more and improving their skill," Boyd said. " And I can see them light up when the instructors teach them something that they didn't know before or didn't understand how to do. So I think they have a great time doing it."
For Stewart, hearing from parents like Boyd and reading thank you notes from the kids means his mission is in the right lane.
"I think it's important to learn how to swim and you should come here because it's free," Alexia said.
"It brings great joy to my heart. You can just see the happiness in them. They write these notes to me and tell me how much they appreciate learning how to swim," Stewart said. "And who knows, we may get an Olympic swimmer from Rochelle-Landers Pool."
This swimming program isn't just for minorities, it's open to anyone. You don't have to live in the neighborhood to participate.
Swimming lessons are finished for this year. The hope is to pick them up again next year. Get in touch with the parks department for more information.
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