Wanda Butts
Erich Morse Photography Wanda Butts

A mythology surrounds people who turn personal tragedy into good. Wanda Butts makes clear why.

In 2006, her 16-year-old son, Josh, drowned in a lake. Since then, she has transformed her unfathomable loss into a lifelong mission — teaching minority children to swim. “I was not aware of how important it was for my son to know how to swim and what to do in and around water,” she says. “After finding out that African-American children drown so much more, I figured I’m not the only one in my race who didn’t know.”

Since its founding in 2007, Butts’ organization,The Josh Project, has taught approximately 2,000 Toledo-area children how to swim for a nominal fee. Courses are held at a nearby Catholic high school, which discounts the space.

Butts shares the water-safety message through speaking engagements at churches, schools and other settings. And she juggles her nonprofit work with a full-time job working for the city of Toledo.

People may ask: How? Why?

To Butts, it’s very simple: “I thought if I could help somebody not to have to go through what I go through every day of my life, and will for the rest of my life, then that’s what I wanted to do.”

The founder of The Josh Project with some of the organization's students.
Erich Morse Photography The founder of The Josh Project with some of the organization's students.