The Ott family began John’s swim lessons when he was two years old. Now, at only three and a half, he’s ready to take on just about anything thrown his way during his weekly lesson. YJohn sat in his mother Melissa’s lap as she shared his swim lesson experiences, and anxiously looked up at her as she spoke about his favorite parts of his lesson.
“Mommy, what are we doing here? Can’t we go swimming?” John asked. When she told him they were just talking about swimming, he asked, “Well...after we talk about swimming can we go swimming?”
John wasn’t always so excited to swim. When he began lessons, it was impossible to even get him into the pool. “He would just cry. He didn’t want to leave my arms, and he certainly didn’t want to get into the pool,” Melissa said. “He went from crying to even get in the water to jumping right in without hesitation. He treads water on his own without a flotation.”
The family wanted to start John’s lessons at a young age to ensure he can be as safe in water as possible.“I had a fear of water as a child, so I never became a strong swimmer. I didn’t want that for him, so I wanted him to start lessons as soon as he could,” Melissa said.
Jen Jeffrey, Aquatics Coordinator at YMCA, expressed several times how important it is for every child to receive swim lessons, whether they are afraid of water or not.“Nowadays, with so many drownings, it’s so important that kids know how to swim,” Jen said. “In swim lessons, we teach them water safety skills and swimming skills to ensure they are always safe in water.”
The Starkey family can also attest to how important swimming skills are for young children. Three of their grandchildren are taking lessons with Jen. The youngest, Harper, who has also taken lessons from the age of two, can now swim a short distance without floaties or assistance at only three years old. The Starkeys wanted swim lessons for Harper because, unlike John, she was always ready to jump right in. “We went to a pond last weekend, and we weren’t planning on swimming. I didn’t have her swimsuit, I didn’t have her floaties, I didn’t have anything. My older son and my father got in the pond, and Harper just stripped down on the spot and ran and jumped in!” Harper’s mother, Jamie, said. “The biggest reason we wanted her to take lessons is because she is not and has never been afraid of water,” she added. “We knew she wanted to swim, and we wanted her to learn how to do it safely before she tried on her own and hurt herself.”
Jen is also Harper’s instructor, and has taught her how to be safe while swimming. “Because she has taken lessons, she knows she’s not supposed to go into the pool without an adult,” Harper’s grandmother, Michelle, said. “Then, once she’s in the water, she’s aware of where the sides of the pool are and where the person who is with her is standing. She doesn’t just take off swimming without looking; they’ve taught her to know where her surroundings are and to be safe that way.”Jen teaches children water safety and swimming skills through playing games. One favorite from both Harper and John she calls “race cars,” where she races them around the pool.“She does the lesson in a way that’s beneficial to John because it improves his swimming skills, but she does it by playing games,” Melissa said. “He thinks it’s just playtime.”
Michelle also spoke to how much the children enjoy their lessons. “It’s fun for them, it’s not a chore,” she said. “And they can take what she has given them and play with it, and not realize they have learned a very valuable skill that they can have for the rest of their lives.” Both John and Harper take private swim lessons with Jen, and both of their families emphasized how close they have each become with her. “All the kids, they trust Miss Jen,” Michelle said. “The relationship gets them to work. Harper can be kind of stubborn, and when she doesn’t want to do something, she won’t. But she wants to make Miss Jen proud, and Jen makes lessons something Harper wants to work hard at.”
Approximately 700 children of all ages participate in swimming lessons at the Mansfield Area YMCA every year. Of course, the Y has many other features as well. Each year, the Y offers more than 950 aerobics classes, benefiting 5,000 people of all ages. About 300 home-schooled children and 75 onsite preschoolers take part in their swim program. 360 young people from swim teams take advantage of competitive swim times. 60 lifeguards receive training, and 200 people use water therapy rehabilitation. The Y also has a state-of-the-art fitness center, childcare services, group exercise classes, dance and tumbling classes, racquetball courts, adult and youth sports leagues, and there will soon be a splash pad.
Melissa spoke about her experience with some other features of the Y that the family uses. “I take advantage of the gym classes when I have time, and my husband works out here. I love the classes. I’m not from here, and this is how I first met some of my friends, here at the Y,” Melissa said. Though the Y offers these numerous features, the pool is truly the heart of it all. And the pool is in need of renovations.
The Mansfield Area Y’s indoor pool facility—featuring a 75 foot lap pool for recreational and competitive swimmers, a hot tub, a lazy river, a 140-foot slide and a wading area with play features for young children— is in critical need of a major renovation totaling $285,000 after more than 18 years of continuous use. The stairs to the slide are one area where the concrete needs reparations. The pool shell repairs are the largest part of the renovation project.
“The renovation project focuses on a major repair to our pool shell, new lap lane ropes, concrete repair on the deck area, repurposing the play features, and adding a non-slip pad on the play feature to ensure the children can enjoy the kids area safely,” Baker said. The children's play area will get non-slip pads to ensure safe play. To remain open and safe, the YMCA needs the funds to install these features to the pool. Rather than increasing membership fees, they are asking for donations from the community.
“Our membership fees are necessary to keep the facility running on a daily basis; electric, water, towels, and other necessary services,” Baker said. “When we have a fundraising campaign, we find it outside of the realm of responsibility of our members. As a nonprofit, we do not have funding allotted for such projects, so we lean on our community members and local businesses for much needed support.” She described the community support the Y has already received for this project. “There are many dedicated pool patrons who have already stepped up to provide donations. People are finding the necessity in an operational pool within the community, as there are very few left in our area.” They are planning to begin renovations as soon as the receive a majority of the funds. In order to inconvenience the community as little as possible, the renovations should only take between 15-20 days, but the pool will be closed during that time.
Jamie spoke about why these renovations are important to her family, and others like her in the community. “I think it’s important to have a functioning pool. So many pools are closing, and having a safe place to go and learn is important.” Community members are encouraged to donate to keep the Mansfield Area YMCA pool safe and open for years to come. Donate now.