Goals and challenges
At the 2016 summer season wrap-up meeting, a member of the Willoughby pools management team realized that the swimming skills of the city’s day camp patrons were not improving. Lifeguards had performed five rescues during the season, which Jim Clark, parks and recreation coordinator for the City of Willoughby, thought was excessive. He realized that many of the parents use the day-camp program as child care, and they often lack the time and resources to enroll their children in swim lessons. “I thought to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. These kids have come to our pools at least once a week and they are not learning how to swim. What a wasted opportunity,’” he says. Clark then set a personal goal to make sure the children had access to affordable, high-quality swim lessons.

How they did it
Camp Swim Better began as a way to teach Willoughby day camp kids, ages 6-13, how to swim. The program provided one day of swim lessons per week for eight weeks and was offered in conjunction with the day camp summer program, which included a wide range of activities, such as field trips to local amusement parks and swimming time at local pools.

Nearly a third of the total camp population signed up for the swimming lessons program. The children were taken by school bus to local pools approximately 45 minutes before the rest of the campers. They were divided based on their skill levels and given a 30-minute instructional session that was provided by teachers from the American Red Cross. Most of the children had never had swim lessons, says Clark.

For those who could not afford the instructions, Clark made use of Willoughby’s fee-waiver program. The plan is intended for children 17 years of age and under who cannot pay fees associated with the programs in which they’d like to participate. The waivers even made it possible for some of the children to attend the day camp. All donations were provided by members of the community.

At the end of the 2017 season, lifeguards reported that only one of the Willoughby campers needed to be pulled out by a lifeguard — an 80% reduction.

“Camp Swim Better has not only made our camp kids safer, but it improved kids’ enjoyment of camp, and hopefully will lead to a lifelong enjoyment of swimming,” says Clark.