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Willmar community to provide water safety classes again

The Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA and the Willmar Community Education and Recreation are partnering this summer to provide free water safety classes to community children who don't know how to swim. Sessions are scheduled Saturday at the Doro...

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Briana Sanchez / Tribune Brent Pederson, volunteer, helps Rahmo Abdillah float on her back during the Willmar Community Education & Recreation and YMCA Water Safety Awareness class Aug. 15, 2016, at the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center in Willmar. Pederson was helping Abdillah learn to float on her back as one of the safety lessons.

The Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA and the Willmar Community Education and Recreation are partnering this summer to provide free water safety classes to community children who don't know how to swim.

Sessions are scheduled Saturday at the Dorothy Olson Aquatics Center in Willmar.

The class is for children between the ages of 6 and 11, and will educate the children on basic water safety.

In its second year, the program was started in 2016 in response to the tragic drownings of Idris Hussein, who was 10, and Ahmed Hashi, who was 11, June 28 at Foot Lake in Willmar. The YMCA and WCER partnered to develop a program for preventing the same thing from happening again. Volunteers turned out en masse to help.

"In two weeks we got everything organized to do our first water safety day last year in the middle of August, we literally had everyone just falling in place to help," said Theresa Hillis, executive director of the YMCA. "We had over 50 volunteers. In two weeks we had 50 people volunteering."

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This year, the event is on a Saturday, meaning more volunteers will be able to come than last year, when the event was on a weekday, Hillis said.

The event has four rotations, each designed to teach the children a water safety skill. The first is designed to get the children acclimated to the water by introducing them to the water in the zero-depth pool, having them walk in from a depth of zero to a depth of some 18 inches and having them sit down in the water and float on their back.

The next station has the children learn how to properly use a life jacket.

After that, the children are taught how to properly assist distressed swimmers from shore and from a dock.

In the final rotation, the Kandiyohi Sheriff's Department will be donating their time to teach the children proper boat and dock safety.

Also donating their time are Somali and Spanish interpreters. Abdi Noor, who is a member of the YMCA board and an associate technical analyst at Jennie-O, interpreted last year for the event and is planning on doing it again this year. He believes there is a need in the Somali community to educate children about water safety.

"Most of the young kids from Somalia here, in my opinion, they don't know how to swim," he said. "It's not their fault, where they were, if it was in a refugee camp or something, there may not have been water nearby, where they can just play. So then they come here, there's water, and many of them are afraid of it."

Busing to and from the event will be donated by the Willmar Bus Service. Pam Vruwink, aquatics and wellness director at WCER, believes the bus is important for providing access to people who need this program.

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"We're very fortunate to have buses donated for the event," she said. "We're really fortunate to be in a community where volunteerism and helping others seems to be a common thread."

The event is funded entirely by donations and is free. Attendees can pick from schedule times of 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. June 10. Each child must have an adult caregiver, a swimsuit, a towel and sunscreen. To find out more and register, which is not required, go to www.willmarCER.com or call 320-231-8490.

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