By fate or coincidence, Cassie McGovern, who had lost her 19-month-old daughter in a backyard pool drowning, was serving wings and drinks to members of a local IPSSA chapter, which met at the restaurant for its monthly meetings. She told them her story.
At the time, she had quite a juggle: In addition to her job as a waitress, she was getting her drowning-prevention organization, the McGovern Foundation, off the ground. “I would go out and speak and share my story,” McGovern recalls. “Being a very, very small nonprofit, I needed all the help I could get.”
The pool pros supplied more than a sympathetic ear. They gave the waitress a trunk-full of water-safety collateral that she could disseminate on her speaking circuit.
Ken Scott, president and owner of AquaBliss Pools in Deerfield Beach, Fla., was so moved by McGovern’s story that he committed to donating a dollar per pool account to her drowning-prevention efforts. Among his services, he repairs pool vacuum bags, and donates all proceeds from that work to the McGovern Foundation. His contributions have funded swimming lessons for 50 disadvantaged youths, as well as certifications for 10 lifeguards.
“As pool guys, our livelihood depends on swimming pools,” says Scott, whose company appears in PSN’s Top 50 Pool Service ranking. “We should be trying to do whatever we can to keep those pools safe.”
McGovern’s story is tragic — and tragically common. The McGovern household in Coral Springs, Fla. was busier than normal on Aug. 3, 2009. The eldest daughter was entertaining a friend and Cassie McGovern’s husband, Shannon, had a candidate over for a job interview. Edna Mae, the youngest of the three daughters, was fresh from a nap and sitting in her rocking chair with a sippy cup. But the next thing Cassie McGovern knew, her youngest wasn’t there.
“[I] came back and she wasn’t where I had left her, so I kind of wanted to check around the house, put my eyes on her before I went outside,” McGovern remembers.
The two other daughters were accounted for, but Edna Mae was nowhere to be found inside. McGovern then stepped outside, expecting to find Edna Mae by the swing set. That’s when her husband, Shannon, heard her screaming.
Cassie McGovern found her daughter face down in the pool. Shannon took the child from Cassie’s arms and began performing CPR. His quick actions gave them one more week with their daughter in the hospital.
There were signs of hope in the days that followed. Tests showed Edna Mae’s organs improving but others revealed declining brain activity. On Sunday, Aug. 9, the McGoverns signed the consent forms to donate her organs. People are alive today thanks to Edna Mae.
Cassie McGovern never imagined anything like this could happen. The McGoverns typically used the pool as a family. They’d get in together and leave together, always closing the gate when they were done swimming for the day. But in the hustle and bustle of that day, the gate had been left open.
“Our family, we thought we were taking every precaution possible,” McGovern says. “We thought we were those helicopter parents, and we had the pool fence in place.”
McGovern’s waitressing days are behind her. Today, she’s leading the charge full-time to educate families about water safety, as the Florida Department of Health’s local drowning prevention program manager. She continues to work closely with Scott, who is a member of the Broward County Drowning Prevention Task Force.
The task force’s initiatives include S.P.U.D.: Students Preventing Unintentional Drowning. In the extracurricular club, students can earn community service hours by raising awareness about water safety. Last year, 10 local high schools took part in S.P.U.D. The program has since expanded to include middle schools. The club’s activities are mostly virtual during the pandemic.
The program gives teens the opportunity to teach younger children how to stay safe around water. Not only do these young messengers set the program apart, McTGovern and Scott say, but they increase the program’s effectiveness.
“There’s a little bit better of a connection there when the elementary kids hear from high school kids [versus adults],” Scott says.
The program couldn’t have come at a better time. Florida has seen a dramatic increase in drowning deaths this year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, with Broward County leading the state.
McGovern is grateful for Scott and the pool industry’s support.
“Thankfully, the pool industry has backed us and supported us and is really invested in the youth,” she says.