Goals and challenges

Demographics have proven challenging, because some of the state’s richest and poorest people live in the area served by Summit Family Aquatic Center. So it is that SFAC’s top goals include meeting the programming and affordability concerns of all the community segments.

Also, with so many options out there competing for families’ leisure dollars, SFAC is always on the lookout for programs and projects that will set it apart from other facilities. Clever programming has proven to be an effective way for SFAC to compete with larger facilities — and it doesn’t require investing in expensive new rides or attractions, either.

How they did it

Inspired by Disney’s classic animated film “The Little Mermaid,” many young girls these days want to be mermaids. With a creative program, Summit Family Aquatic Center can make that wish come true.

This summer, the Summit, N.J., facility launched a class where participants, mostly aged 8 to 12, learn to swim wearing a colorful mermaid tail. SFAC’s Water Safety Team created the curriculum, which first tests participants’ skills with and without the tails: They must already be proficient swimmers and show that they can float, tread water, swim underwater and become adept at the butterfly kick.

During the 2-hour class, the team looks for weak areas and addresses them. Once students prove they have mastered swimming with a mermaid tail, they can free swim, still watched by the instructors, of course.

Not only is the session fun, it helps boost confidence in the water and enhances lifesaving skills, says Judith Leblein Josephs, director of community programs. It was held twice this summer, with 26 graduates.

The class costs $90 including the mermaid tail, or $40 if a student wants to rent one. Not surprisingly, most decide to keep the tail and, once they have successfully completed the course, they may wear it at SFAC’s free, weekly Float Nights.

“It’s our 45th anniversary,” Josephs notes, “and each year we have a theme. This year it was ‘Under the Sea,’ so the Mermaid Class was perfect.” Special credit goes to program supervisors David Guida, in charge of the Mermaid Class, among others, and Gretchen Masterfano, who came up with this year’s theme.

The center relies on imaginative programming to help compete with larger facilities. SFAC charged its “cruise director,” a character called Mr. Fun, with running free games and activities focused on younger children. Specialized programming also includes yoga, tai chi and mahjong; classes in paddle boarding and kayaking; Poolside Learning and Sharkey Swim School.

“We try to capture people’s imagination,” Josephs says. “We provide ‘aquatainment’ inside and outside the water.”