UNCW Pilots Learn-to-Swim Program for Area Youth

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

UNCW’s Office of Community Engagement and Athletics Department are sponsoring the university’s first-ever learn-to-swim program for area youth. Approximately 20 children, ages 6 to 16, from Wilmington’s Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church will spend two weeks this summer learning water safety and skills while overcoming their fears and growing familiar with the water.

UNCW staff member and alumna Ann Freeman '08, '17M, assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees, developed the idea for the program while conducting research for her MPA thesis project. She found via her research that African-American and Hispanic children are far more likely to drown or experience near-drowning accidents than their white peers.

“My thesis project requirement forced me to think about what I was passionate about,” said Freeman. “I wanted to use the time I was devoting to the project to work on something with the potential to make a difference for members of our community.”

While conducting focus groups as part of her research, Freeman noticed an emerging pattern that exposed a deficit within the community: many members of the interviewed minority populations were unable to swim. Heartbreakingly, her nephew drowned the day she presented her findings.

“Throughout my research, several adults and children said they didn’t know how to swim and that they wanted to learn,” said Freeman. “Comments like those, coupled with my own personal tragedy, pushed me to continue to look for ways to make this pilot a reality.”

Freeman believes that for residents of a coastal community, swimming is a vital life skill and that everyone should have equal, unfettered access to obtain it. This pilot program, offered at no cost to participants, is helping parents like Nikki Felder, who has four children learning to swim through the program. She said it’s been a long time coming.

“I’ve wanted to do it for years and just never saved for it,” said Felder. “My kids are ages 16, 14, 9 and 6, and this program is right on time. It is truly a blessing.”

-- Christina Schechtman