In New Orleans, we seem to spend most of the summer months figuring out how to stay cool. It is a challenge but luckily there are some viable remedies to help beat the heat: snowballs, award-winning museums, art galleries, performing arts venues and restaurants. But probably one of the more popular options for all ages is found in the oasis of the nearest swimming pool. One of my favorite summertime memories is of my children with wrinkled fingertips, “green” chlorine hair and bloodshot eyes being coaxed out of the pool after hours of unbridled fun. That bliss found through swimming is a gift former Tulane University student Laura White felt compelled to share with all local children, despite limited access to instruction and pools.
After she rescued five children from drowning during an outing to a local lake in Georgia, the then-15-year-old White realized the true inaccessibility of swimming lessons. In July 2006, White and her swim team friends, coaches and swim parents organized volunteers to teach lessons in various pool locations in the Atlanta area. The organization became so successful she expanded the program to New Orleans in 2008 while a Tulane student.
Having now taught hundreds of children, Swim 4 Success in New Orleans thrives through the volunteer support of Tulane students and university funding. Over 50 trained volunteers offer free water safety and basic swimming skills at the Reily Center over eight weeks to 75 students in the fall and spring. The five Sunday afternoon one-hour sessions for children ages 5 to 15 have become so popular there is a two-year waiting list for new students. Fortunately, the program was able to offer an additional class during the 2016-2017 sessions, but hopes to accommodate even more interested students in the future either at Tulane or other area pools.
Swim 4 Success has also recently added healthy snacks and nutrition education to each session and is searching for outlets to provide a higher level of instruction or swim team opportunities for its program graduates. The Swim 4 Success Executive Board of 10 Tulane students and an advisor from the Tulane Department of the Center for Public Service is inspired to continue to grow the mission and reach of the program to an even larger audience of low-income families in New Orleans.
Picture the face of the child finding the courage to jump off the side of the pool into the water for the first time. It is one of fear, excitement and then pride as the instructor applauds the accomplishment. Executive Director and Tulane senior Alex Pavlakis says, “The members of Swim 4 Success are committed to providing safety as well as creating a bond between the Tulane community and the New Orleans community. Our members have been privileged to be involved with swimming in one way or another, and through this program we are able to share these enjoyable experiences with New Orleans’ children. We realize our ability to affect the lives of these children, whether it’s providing a safety service, a consistent weekly exercise program or a place to talk and play with one of our instructors.”
Swim 4 Success is providing the invaluable service of saving lives through water safety education but the organization is giving back so much more by empowering low-income New Orleans youth through sharing the undeniable pleasures of swimming.