Photo by Colmariapaz
Photo by Colmariapaz

Thanks to the generosity of anonymous benefactors, aquatics programs and facilities throughout the country have benefited – and the gift giving shows no signs of stopping. In fact, it may even be accelerating. A recent example occurred in Florida, where an anonymous donor’s $70,000 gift meant 1,500 children will get free swim lessons this summer.

The donation came in to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which then partnered with SWIM Central of Broward County to make the lessons possible for local kids whose families might not otherwise be able to afford the life-saving classes. Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for those under age 4 statewide – and highest among African-American children – so it is important to teach youngsters water safety, said Jay Sanford, manager of SWIM Central, to the Miami Herald.

Apparently, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Aquatics International found a number of examples of anonymous donors active in aquatics. Of course, that raises the question: Why do people avoid recognition for their good deeds? As might be expected, there are many answers. The No. 1 reason, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is that they want to avoid publicity. Yes, but why? Some simply want to move attention away from themselves to others, while some think it would be awkward socially if their neighbors knew how wealthy they are. Others say that by avoiding publicity, they can focus their efforts and not be inundated with appeals.  Still others worry about being kidnapped and held for ransom. And, for many, it’s done to send a signal to other donors about an organization’s quality and worthiness, according to a study from University of Bristol in England.

Regardless of the reason, aquatics has benefited from such generosity. For example, last month an individual gave $45,000 to the American Red Cross to cover swim lessons for 750 kids in Jersey City, N.J. – and to fund scholarships for training lifeguards and swim instructors, noted the The Jersey Journal.

Another Florida community was stunned on April 1 when a generous soul donated $4 million to Lake Howell High School for improvements that will include a new, Olympic-size pool and complex. At first, some wondered if it was an April Fools’ joke, but the principal assured them that the secret benefactor was serious. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the individual was an alumnus who wanted to give the Winter Park school some much-needed assistance.

Over in Oregon, two anonymous donors have come to the aid of low-income families. One benefactor has been quietly paying into a scholarship fund that Albany’s Parks & Rec Department set up to subsidize punch cards that are used to pay for admission to the city’s two pools, stated the Albany Democrat-Herald. Another donor has been supporting the Water Awareness Program for over 10 years, at a cost estimated to have reached approximately $500,000 by now. The program buses third, fourth and fifth grade students to the pool at South Albany High, where they learn basic water survival and swim techniques.

For an anonymous donor story with a twist, there’s the new Waynetown Aquatic Center in Indiana. A major mechanical failure forced the original, 50+year-old pool to close the day before it was due to open for the 2012 swim season. For a while, the community went without a municipal pool – on hot days, the fire hydrants sometimes were opened and kids could play in the water. Then an individual contacted town leaders, offering a substantial donation toward construction of a new pool and recreational facility. The gift, which ultimately totaled $800,000, came with a couple of stipulations: The townspeople had to kick in some money, too, and the donor’s identity was to remain anonymous until his/her death or completion of the project, according to the Journal Review.

The citizens got busy holding fund-raisers; an expected finish date of mid-May 2014 was set; and work began. Then in late October 2013, the benefactor passed away, and the Waynetown Council was at liberty to release the name. Joan Rafferty Harrington, 81, had been a successful real estate broker in the area. When she heard about Waynetown’s dilemma from a young person who would have been a lifeguard at the pool if it hadn’t closed, she was moved and reached out to the town council. The rest, as they say, is history.