A life-saving ‘drop’ of prevention
In a matter of weeks, thousands of youngsters from the City of Richmond will race for neighborhood pools, ponds and creeks to celebrate the start of summer vacation with a splash.
And Veronica Stewart, who lives in the suburbs of far western Henrico, has been working all winter to make sure none of those splashes are unplanned, unexpected or go undetected.
As a Girl Scout of ten years and a certified lifeguard, Stewart says she had little difficulty when it came time to choose the focus of her Gold Award project.
"I love being around water and working with children," says Stewart, a sophomore at Godwin High School. "The [swim lessons and water safety for children] topic was a logical choice."
During her lifeguard and CPR training, the Red-Cross-certified Stewart says, she was shocked to learn of the traps and dangerous situations that can be encountered when people are in or around the water.
She was also alarmed to learn the statistics about the prevalence/frequency of drowning, and about the people most at risk. Nearly 80 percent of fatalities from drowning, for instance, occur among males. Less surprising, but still disturbing: the highest drowning rates occur among children between the ages one and four.
"Children are 100 times more likely to die in a pool than by a firearm," she says. "And drowning is also a silent killer.
"Most young children who drowned in pools were last seen in the home, had been out of sight less than five minutes, and were in the care of one or both parents at the time."
Suits and skills
In an effort to raise public awareness about the importance of water safety and the ease and speed with which children can slip away into danger, Stewart has developed a Facebook page devoted to drowning prevention. In addition to displaying statistics and links to water safety websites, the site also promotes an annual event called The Worlds Largest Swimming Lesson.
"Everyone young and old must know this life-saving skill," she emphasizes, adding that parents should establish water safety rules when children are very young – and better yet, start early teaching children to float or swim.
But Stewart hasn't stopped at educating parents and children on the importance of water safety and swim lessons; she also volunteers at Jack-n-Jill School as a swim teacher. What's more, she coordinates the collection of swim gear and new or gently used swimsuits for the “Learn to Swim" programs at the Downtown and Northside YMCAs, where City of Richmond second graders take lessons.
"Thousands of children come through the program each year," says Stewart, "and most do not have bathing suits."
Another measure Stewart has taken as part of her Gold Award project is recruiting individuals and businesses to provide scholarships for low-income swimmers to attend summer camps with swim lessons.
It bothers Stewart that every summer, she hears on the news about children and adults who drown – often in the river, but in swimming pools as well – and that fatal drowning remains the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one to 14 years. (In Henrico County, two adults and two children have
drowned over the past three years; all the drownings occurred in swimming pools, according to statistics Stewart obtained from Capt. Bryan Miers of the Henrico Division of Fire.)
Less publicized, Stewart says, are statistics not included in fatality rates: the many near-drownings and close calls, and victims who need emergency treatment or suffer serious injury as a result.
Once her Gold Award project is complete, Stewart hopes another Girl Scout troop or organization will continue collecting swimsuits and swim gear for the downtown and northside YMCA programs.
After all, she is active with other organizations too – including volunteer work with Freedom House, SOHO (Student Organization Helping Others) and The Fresh Start for Single Mothers and Their Children community outreach program. She is also almost halfway through high school and – although she enjoys the subjects of history and science – still unsure about her college and career plans.
But there is one thing Stewart is positive about when it comes to her future.
"I will continue on as a lifeguard," she says, "and teaching swimming lessons to children."
Collection sites for swimsuits and swim gear include: Love of Jesus Thriftique (next to the Food Lion in Lauderdale Shopping Center); Jack-n-Jill School at 8316 Michael Rd., and 3Sports in the River Road Shopping Center. For details about sponsoring a low-income minority child's learn-to-swim classes, call Pam Brown, director of Jack-n-Jill School, at 270-3030. To view Stewart's Facebook page devoted to drowning prevention, or for information about The Worlds Largest Swimming Lesson, visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/Water-Safety-for-Children/555383424473239?ref=hl
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‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise
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They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.
As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.
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