Johnathan Lee, director of Association Aquatics for the Capital Area YMCA, grew up swimming at the Atlanta YMCA, where his father served as executive director.
“He wrote a book on swimming,” Lee said of his dad, who has since retired but still teaches swimming in Georgia.
The Y has meant a lot to the Lee family because it changed the trajectory of all their lives, and it started at a pool in Detroit.
Lee’s father lost his own father when he was 11 years old, and a neighbor, seeing that he needed a way to channel his grief, took him to their local YMCA.
“He went through the swimming program, then the gymnastics program. He pretty much worked his way through every program they had, and ended up forming relationships that helped him get through college,” Lee said.
When he graduated, Lee’s father came back to Detroit and began his career with the YMCA.
It’s this kind of legacy Lee hopes to leave to more families in Baton Rouge, who, because they are minorities, will be more likely to drown than their nonminority counterparts.
In an effort to spread the love of swimming and safety in the water, the Capital Area YMCA will continue its low-cost, and in some cases, no-cost swimming and water safety programs, both at the Y locations and in a new partnership with BREC pools, Lee said, which are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Water Safety Program, sponsored by East Baton Rouge Parish, BREC, the YMCA and the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, launched this spring, according to a release from the Y.
The program will be more comprehensive than summer swimming lessons and will include classroom and pool-based instruction. It will be aimed at adults and children.
“Since joining BREC, I have spent a lot of time at Liberty Lagoon Water Park and our swimming pools, and it concerns me to see the large number of children who rely on a life jacket when they are in the pool,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said. “Each summer, we work with the YMCA to enroll as many children as possible into our Learn to Swim programs, but this year, we want to begin a more in-depth program which will help both adults and children become comfortable in the water.”
In addition to the Water Safety Program, BREC and the YMCA will continue offering Learn to Swim lessons. In 2014, 1,143 children completed those lessons.
All locations of the Y also are accepting donations of new swimsuits, Lee said, to help give children in those programs proper swim attire.
“We had some kids coming to lessons in cutoff shorts or just regular clothes,” Lee said. The cotton fibers broke down faster than swimsuit material, clogging the pool filters and often breaking them. Chlorine used to treat the pool also reacts more with natural fibers, so more chlorine has to be used for the same effect, he said.
But the best reason to provide students with swimsuits, he said, is confidence level.
“They get excited about it, especially if they have the right attire,” he said.
Suits for children ages 3 to 13 are a priority, Lee said, and can be dropped off at any YMCA location.