Families United to Prevent Drowning began in 2014. Alan Korn, executive director of Abbey's Hope, Blake Collingsworth, founder of the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation, and others noticed a need for an organization of families who lost loved ones in water-related accidents and wanted to spread the drowning-prevention message. Since its founding, the group has grown to include 21 families, more than 12 of which have their own groups working to prevent drowning.
Alan Korn’s foray into pool safety advocacy began when he was approached by the family of former Secretary of State James Baker. They wanted help responding to the death of Baker’s granddaughter, Virginia Graeme Baker, who died in 2002 when the suction from a spa drain entrapped her beneath the water. Korn was a key advocate for the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act, which requires pools and spas to be equipped with various anti-entrapment devices and systems and was passed in 2007.
Through Families United, Korn promotes traditional layers of protection: swim lessons, CPR education, safe drains, fenced pool areas, etc. But he expands on that idea to address the responsibility of industry manufacturers, media and even government to participate in drowning prevention.
“There’s a role for government, both local and national, to make sure … those layers of protection are implemented in communities around the country,” Korn says.
He spreads pool safety awareness by speaking before 10 to 12 audiences each year in venues ranging from pool and spa industry conferences to community centers, churches and temples.
The past several years of Blake Collingsworth’s life have been dedicated to raising awareness about drowning prevention through Families United.
Rather than acting as an emotional support group, the organization contributes to the cause of drowning prevention. “We haven’t set ourselves up to be an emotional support network except for the fact that every one of us knows how each other feels,” Collingsworth says.
Over the past three years he has spearheaded the dissemination of 70,000 water-safety pamphlets in the water bills of every resident in Lincoln, Neb., inspired by another Families United organization, who had done that in its community.
Though Collingsworth hopes to put an end to drowning, thereby preventing the organization from growing in size, he sees its voice and message growing much stronger in the near future.
“Families United is organically growing,” he says. “We know that a collective voice is much stronger than an individual voice, [and] I see it becoming a pretty strong collective voice over time.”