The city’s youngsters will have an opportunity to learn to swim this summer thanks to a donation from Hero Beech-Nut.
The baby-food manufacturer, which is opening a new factory in the town of Florida, has agreed to finance the city’s new Learn-to-Swim program at the city pool in Veterans Park this summer.
The program is expected to cost more than $7,600.
The Learn-to-Swim program was initiated by Colleen McHeard, a teacher at the Wilbur H. Lynch Literacy Academy and a certified water safety instructor who has taught many of the city’s children to swim at the middle school’s pool.
“They used to give swim lessons at the pool a long time ago,” she said. “It would be nice to bring that back.”
McHeard said her two young children, who enjoy the city pool, are the main reason for her wanting a Learn-to-Swim program, but she thinks the program will benefit the entire community and improve the culture at the pool.
“The lifeguards will help do lessons and the kids will grow up at the pool and become lifeguards themselves,” she said. “It might make control easier.”
McHeard approached Mayor Ann Thane about having a program at the pool that would benefit a large number of the city’s children, and the pair along with recreation director Rob Spagnola began to lay out a list of needs to get the program started.
Major needs include equipment like kickboards, life vests and other flotation gear and the money to hire lifeguards, instructors and a program director.
The Learn-to-Swim program will help underserved preschool- and elementary school-aged children learn to swim.
McHeard said she thinks the pool is big enough to accommodate between 150 and 200 children in swim lessons split between the two class times.
Two classes are expected to be held each weeknight at 5 and 6 p.m. from July 5-13.
Thane said she approached Hero Beech-Nut to see if it would fund the program and they “generously” agreed, she said.
“We are really, really pleased,” she said. “It is such a very significant contribution to the city. We have so many underserved kids and a lot of them don’t know how to swim.”
Thane said swimming is a lifelong skill that can become a passion. It did for her son, who she said was an “active child,” but was given direction and learned discipline and teamwork through swimming.
Thane said her office will be sending more information about the program and ways to register through the school district.