photo courtesy Farmers Branch Aquatics Center

Farmers Branch Aquatics Center

Farmers Branch, Texas

In 2020, the pandemic changed how the world operates and the ways people socialize and connect.

Management at Farmers Branch Aquatics Center made it a top priority to address the isolation that youth and teens in particular have experienced during this time. To do so, they created a program called Water.Adventure.Leader.Knowledge (W.A.L.K.), to introduce teens to the world of aquatics and give them an opportunity to meet other like-minded young people.

“In Farmers Branch, we pride ourselves on growing our own by investing time in them and their education, and teaching the importance of dedication,” says Aquatics Manager Paul Macias. “It’s an attitude that is valuable to any employee or employer. For our center in particular, it helps us have a consistently staffed lifeguard and swim lesson program.”

This mindset helped Farmers Branch sidestep the lifeguard shortages and remain 99% staffed for the 2021 summer season, Macias reports.

“Our focused efforts on recruitment began back in 2016 and have allowed us to reach individuals who didn’t have a swim background and who would never have thought of becoming a lifeguard,” he said. “We wanted to take the time to invest in each person who had the desire to become a lifeguard, and the W.A.L.K. program extends that philosophy to the community’s youth who may not be old enough to work but are interested in aquatics and lifeguarding.”

Adolescents in the W.A.L.K. program completed the center’s Junior Lifeguarding and Junior Swim Instructor courses and attended a week-long aquatics summer camp that allowed them to put their skills into action. They learned how to perform myriad water rescues, along with proper CPR technique and how to teach swim lessons and water safety.

“Receiving in-person instruction like this also gives these kids a leg up in obtaining their certification for lifeguarding or swim instruction,” Macias says.

As part of their learning, students shadowed working lifeguards and swim instructors during one of two sessions in June and July. The program also offered them the opportunity to socialize in-person with fellow participants and mentors, helping counteract the effects of a year's worth of online learning and interactions.

“The most significant impact was that they were able to create a special bond with potential future coworkers and friends," Macias says. "After a year spent almost entirely online, this was huge.”

Several parents told Macias about their children’s excitement with him and the Farmers Branch Aquatics Center team.

“Across the board, we heard about how much fun the teens had... and how wonderful it was to see their kids come home every night with exciting stories and new lifesaving skills to share,” he says.

“This summer finally allowed us to come together in a safe environment, and an immense joy for management was seeing staff come together as one team and take pride in paving the way for future aquatics professionals.”