• Graphic by Tim Bobko

    Credit: TIM BOBKO

Community-owned Hyland Hills Water World prides itself in teaching children the life-saving skill of swimming. 

So when we saw an urgent need for water education, we knew something needed to be done. We just had to figure out how.

Our survey showed that 72 percent of children in our area had never taken a water safety course and 61 percent wanted to.

Staff members formulated a proposal for a swim lesson initiative, called the Be-A-Fish Learn to Swim Program. They envisioned low-cost, daily half-hour swim lessons given by Water World lifeguards in two-week blocks.

Everything sounded great — until we realized that even low cost lessons would probably cost too much. According to the school district’s accounting, more than 75 percent of the children qualified for the federally funded Free and Reduced School Lunch program. 

So we needed local partners to take cost completely out of the equation. Our local school district and to its benevolent 501(C)(3) Foundation, whose volunteer members are local business people took up the cause. The schools publicized the program through teachers and parents. The Foundation agreed to make the program a funding priority.  Water World provided the necessary lifeguards and facilities.

The initial program, which was piloted in just two schools, is now offered to all of the elementary schools in the surrounding school district. To date, 7,200 children have taken advantage of the free swim lessons. Upon completing the program, each child receives a congratulatory certificate of accomplishment.

Water World enjoys a good sense of social responsibility knowing that someone’s life just might be saved from lessons. The added public relations value doesn’t hurt either. After all, we’ve got more than 7,000 Be-A-Fish Learn to Swim Program Certificates (with the Water World logo big as day on them) proudly hanging in the homes of happy new swimmers!

In 2011 our now award-winning program received a grant from Wells Fargo Bank in Colorado enabling 250 additional kids to participate this summer.

The benefits of such partnerships are many. In this case, the Foundation, Wells Fargo and other business contributors receive community kudos for community engagement; the school district benefits from children having free access to life-skill educational learning; Water World benefits from knowing it has made a huge contribution to the industry, to the kids; and of course to scores of worried parents can now have more confidence as their children enjoy water.


THE LESSONS

1. Teach the children well. While we who are in the water business fully understand the joys of aquatic fun, there are still too many kids out there who are undertrained in water safety and remain uncomfortable in water.

2. Find partners. School districts are experiencing deep cuts, and businesses are trying to make the most of small marketing budgets. Partnering on something like swim lessons can be a win for all.

3. Make it cool. Spreading the word about water safety and empowering youngsters with life-saving skills around water will always be necessary. You’ll have more success if you make the program fun for kids — and even hip to do.

Note: If you’d like to share a story, please send it (and the lessons you learned) to gthill@hanleywood.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joann Cortéz is communications director at Hyland Hills Water World in Federal Heights, Colo., which is located just 10 minutes outside downtown Denver. She has been with the community-owned waterpark for 14 years. Water World is consistently rated among the top 10 waterparks in the world, hosting more than one-half million guests each year during its 100-day summer season.