Adam Duesterhaus

Goals and challenges

The Salvation Army Kroc Center in Quincy, Ill., is one of 26 centers around the country funded by a gift from Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, and a local capital campaign. “The Kroc” offers a variety of programs, with special emphasis on lifeguard training.

The Kroc is one of only a few year-round facilities in the area, says aquatics specialist Nanette Johnson. A licensed training facility for the Red Cross, the center handles most lifeguard classes within a 100-mile radius, and offers certified pool operator training in the Tri-State Area that also includes Missouri and Iowa. The 30 or so Kroc lifeguards have earned a reputation for professionalism while helping to train guards for waterparks and other facilities.

It also offers several programs for locals, including swim lessons, private lessons, aquatic fitness classes with lap lanes, an outdoor splash pad during summer, and a 25-foot tall slide. “We live on the Mississippi river and believe all kids in this area need to know how to swim,” Johnson says.

How they did it

A shortage of lifeguards is a problem of national scope. To draw new recruits, Johnson created the WHISTLE program (We Help Individuals Strive Toward Lifeguard Employment). It provides a discount for lifeguard training and certification in exchange for a year’s employment at the Kroc (at least 10 hours per week at the normal pay rate). If a guard leaves before the year is up, they must pay back the difference in the class fee. The program bolsters its lifeguard roster and aids those who otherwise could not afford the training.

The aquatics program encourages a sense of family among lifeguards, with managers never asking those on staff to do anything they wouldn’t do, says Johnson. A “Kroc Star” rewards program recognizes lifeguards once a month.

The facility’s staff also is in the initial stages of adding a lifeguard class to the public high school curriculum, which would help students who don’t have time for the classes after school, while creating a new generation of guards.

Each month features a different safety and moral focus, Johnson says, to help the young staff grow physically and personally. Safety drills can be scheduled for peak times of the day, not just when lifeguards are expecting them. Johnson, for example, once planned a “red ball drill,” in which guards must spot a red ball dropped into the pool and act according to the emergency action plan, when the Kroc had more than 100 visiting YMCA swimmers on hand.