Five years ago, the local Red Cross asked me to assist a lifeguard class with a special focus. The aim was to teach a disadvantaged community how to swim, and eventually get residents to the point where they could staff their own aquatics facility. I enjoyed working with the Red Cross, so I readily volunteered to assist in the class.
Little did I know this class would give me a chance to change the perception of a community and make a difference in several people’s lives, including my own.
When I started the class, the local pool was just a place to stand and cool off in the hot summer days, not a place to swim laps or take lessons. In fact, most of the community was scared of the water. Because of this, the facility was very run-down. In the bathroom, there were holes big enough to fit a small child through, gates were rusty, and the pool chemistry was manually maintained by a single person who would dump what they thought was appropriate in the water — not by chemical controllers.
Another Red Cross volunteer and I marched into the first day of lifeguard “tryouts” not knowing what to expect. The tryouts went as follows: If participants could swim two laps of the pool, we would accept them into the initial phase of the program — basic lessons, until they could complete the prerequisites for the Red Cross lifeguard course. Out of the 15 or so people who showed up that day, only five made the cut.
But they progressed quickly. After 1 1/2 weeks of lessons, the group could pass the swimming and brick retrieval portion of the lifeguard class. They grew stronger and more confident with each class. Instead of being told they would never be able to do this, they were told how much they were improving, and what it meant to be role models for their community. They would be the first lifeguards from their community for their community. They would have the responsibility to pass their knowledge and skills on to future generations.
One of the class members was on track to become a police officer. He wanted to work at the pool in his downtime. Another was the Parks and Recreation director. Nothing makes more of an impact on your staff than becoming a shining example of what can be accomplished if you set your mind to it.
Two months later, the class graduated and the community was finally able to staff the pool with its own citizens that summer. Taking pride in their certifications and improvement from the first day was an excellent example to make for their town.
As for me, I learned as much, if not more, from the class’ hard work and dedication to the material. Not only did this experience teach me patience and follow-through, but it also made me a better instructor and lifeguard. I thank them for what they gave me and for the opportunity to be part of a community-changing event.