Swimming Program Hopes to Save Lives for Children in Miami’s Underserved Communities By Monique Howard | Legacy Miami Education Issue

Bridgette McKinney’s mother instilled in her the importance of learning to swim at an early age.

The water safety instructor took her first swimming lesson around 5 years old. For more than 5 years now, she has provided the same opportunity for kids in Miami’s underserved communities to prevent unintentional drownings.

But initially, she had one major hurdle. “All the pools were closed, and there were no swim lessons being offered in these areas anymore,” said McKinney, founder and president of Professionals-Sharing with a Purpose (P-SWAP), which facilitates the swim program. “I said we’ve got to get the pools back open.”

McKinney’s swimming program began in 2016 and has since served more than 4,000 children in Liberty City, Miami Gardens and Opa-Locka. The students learn various swimming techniques including the front crawl, back crawl, butterfly, elementary backstroke and sidestroke.

With many parents facing limited incomes, McKinney wanted to make sure the swimming lessons were affordable. So first-time enrollees can register for eight lessons for free. Additional sessions are $25 if students continue with the program.

“It’s a no-brainer, and I win,” McKinney exclaimed. “I may have prevented an unintentional drowning. I provide the water safety component as an element of my program because parents need to be water watchers. Never assume that because they’re wearing a life jacket, you can let them go free.”

As a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, McKinney keeps track of the alarming statistics involving child drownings.

In 2020 in South Florida, she noticed a spike in drownings due to children being home without proper supervision.

According to McKinney, Florida ranks No. 1 in the country for child drownings between the ages of 1-4. Florida is the second highest in unintentional child drownings between the ages of 5-14.

“We know that a bracket of kids is drowning at a higher rate than dying of cancer or any other diseases or even gun violence or plane crashes,” she said. “We have more kids drowning in Florida than all those deaths.”

When reflecting on how PSWAP stands apart from other organizations that offer swimming lessons, McKinney recalls how the program’s unique offerings are beneficial to participants.

“Another very unique thing is our program offers music to help kids,” she explained. “I believe how I learned was to touch on the four senses. I use music to connect the safety skills, so they never forget the key components.”

For information about how to register for swimming classes, contact Professionals-Sharing with a Purpose at (754) 400-1441.

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