The YMCA was founded on the premise that it would offer "programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all." In today's challenging economy, a focus on that mission is more important than ever, says St. Augustine, Fla.-based Kay Smiley, YMCA's specialty consultant for aquatics and scuba.

The fact that the YMCA's swim program teaches kids more than just how to swim has made it the success it is today, according to Smiley. The Y focuses on personal safety and growth, and includes water sports, games and even beginning rescue training, she notes. "We look at swim lessons as teachable moments," Smiley says. And it's those lessons that added value which she believes will help local chapters sustain their aquatics programs through tough times, as it has done for generations.

With the economic downturn, requests for scholarships have increased, Smiley says. But aquatics is a core program for the YMCA, so it's likely that even if hard-hit local chapters are forced to make budget cuts, this will likely be one area that retains a significant amount of funding.

For her part, Smiley worries that the troubled economy will dry up a significant revenue source. Big companies reeling from the downturn may have to reduce the size of their donations. And that might mean many branches will have to work with smaller budgets, leaving operators with less money for training and safety initiatives.

"We are continuing to train our staff on how to operate high-quality and safe aquatics programs," she says, adding that she hopes others in the industry will find ways to do the same.