Megan Johnson and Christian Peck are no strangers to obtaining grants for community swim lessons.

As recreation coordinators for the City of Peoria Aquatics division in Arizona, they are consistently involved in outreach efforts and always seek ways to deliver swim safety education to the underserved members of their community.

“Our goal is to get swim lessons to as many kids as possible, and it shouldn’t depend on their zip code, whether they can afford it, or whether they have transportation to the pool,” says Johnson. “Arizona statistically has a high drowning rate, and when we hear of them, it affects us. We take it personally.”

In the summer of 2018, they received a grant from the Michael Phelps Foundation, and it was a game changer. The grant allowed the city to offer more than 140 free swim lessons to the local Boys and Girls Club as well as children in low-income communities. Out of the 40 Boys and Girls Club members who were part of the program, 31 had never taken a swim lesson. Thanks to transportation from the Girls and Boys Club, access to the pool was made much easier, making this particular grant so important, Johnson explains.

“To see the joy on all the kids’ faces and to be able to bring Michael Phelps and swim lessons to the community was a really cool concept,” Peck says.

Making a difference

Through this grant, they implemented the Michael Phelps Foundation’s “IM Program,” which teaches kids to be safe around water and promotes healthy lifestyles.

At the end of the summer, participants, along with the local Special Olympics swim team athletes, attended a free event at one of the city’s pools to promote water safety. Local and national media were present to help spread water safety messages.

The event began with media interviews and a press conference featuring Michael Phelps and other guests of honor. A mini swim lesson took place, and Phelps lead a Special Olympics swim team clinic with fellow Olympian Allison Schmitt.

More than 200 people attended the community event, which included 12 stations of in-water and land activities provided by various organizations, including the National Drowning Prevention Alliance (NDPA), Drowning Prevention Coalition of Arizona (DPCA), Michael Phelps Foundation, Pool Safely, Josh the Otter Foundation, CPR Party, ZAC Foundation, City of Peoria Fire-Medical Department, and Peoria Firefighter Charities.

“As far as events go, it was one of the biggest we’ve ever done,” Johnson says. “This helps motivate us to continue reaching out to agencies and applying for grants and trying to work with other agencies and passing along that information to the unreachable.”

Johnson and Peck first became familiar with the grant in April after their supervisor returned to the office from the NDPA conference. The application involved a fairly simple process. Two months after submitting some paperwork, they won the funds.

“When we hear people getting grants or hosting an event, we either reach out to the facility or find out how they did it and ask if we can we do it ourselves,” Johnson says.

“Everybody wants to be able to provide reasonable and free lessons. Reaching out is the big thing. You just have to do it.”