The American Red Cross is well into an ambitious five-year campaign meant to not only reduce drowning deaths, but also develop a crop of new lifeguards.
To commemorate 100 years of advocating for water safety, the Red Cross launched the Centennial Initiative in 2014, seeking to halve drowning rates in 50 cities where those rates exceed the national average or are exceptionally high. The organization is doing this by providing funding and technical assistance to implement anti-drowning measures. Strategies include offering lessons at pools where kids are most likely to take them, such as apartments and HOAs.
Ultimately, the goal is to teach 50,000 children and adults to swim, but the Red Cross also intends to make pools safer by offering scholarships to offset the costs of lifeguard and water safety instructor training. They aim to certify 1,000 guards and instructors by campaign’s end.
But the program could very well produce more than that. Just by offering accessible swim lessons, it addresses one of the biggest obstacles to becoming a guard — not having adequate water skills.
“This helps them get the underlying training,” said Connie Harvey, director of the Red Cross Centennial Initiative.
By doing so, the campaign helps address one of the industry’s most pressing needs: more lifeguards. And it’s a long game. Harvey said the organization hopes to see children progress through various stages of development, from beginning swim lessons to participation in Junior Lifeguard programs, to eventually becoming certified as guards or instructors.
The program has been rolling out in increments since its 2014 debut. Last year saw the launch of 26 programs. As the campaign progresses, there will be swim lessons and professional training in all 50 at-risk communities across 19 states.