SIDNEY — Approximately 260 children took part in the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA’ s 32nd annual water safety program this week, where they learned valuable life-saving skills in the water.
The program was presented free of charge to all area children, regardless of YMCA membership, and was sponsored by the Sidney Daily News, in cooperation with Minster Bank, Ruese Insurance and Fricker’s.
The theme for this year’s event, that was formerly known as “Splash,” was “Emoji in and SWIM!”
The YMCA aquatics staff’s goal was for attendees to learn to float in the “starfish” pose, which is a safe resting position in the water. They hope each child left with the life-saving technique.
“The week seemed to go really well, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves,” said YMCA staff member Allison Neu.
Jessica Taylor, the Sidney mother of two young participants, Jeremiah, 7, and Annie Ruth, 5, said her children are “pretty enthusiastic about most new things” so they were excited to attend and had a great time in the water.
“I think Splash is great and my kids love swimming,” Taylor said. “It’s great that the Y goes beyond how to swim, and that they teach kids how to be safe in various types of water environments. Definitely a bonus to the traditional swimming lessons, because my kids take swimming lessons here too. And (water safety week) is free, and they learn how to be safe around the water.”
This was Jeremiah and Annie Ruth’s first year in the program. Their mom said she likes that they learned about being in and around water from a different perspective, such as when they learned to use life jackets.
Children ages 3 to 5 had to be accompanied by a parent in the water for instruction. Taylor said she waited to enroll her children until they both could participate in the program without her having to be in the water.
Seven-year-old Sebastian Campbell loved the program so much his parents, Phillip Campbell and Tracy Laub, of Sidney, signed him up for swim lessons to continue learning.
“It was amazing!” Sebastian said after his last class, while holding his certificate of completion. “I want to come back here (to the pool later) today. I learned how to be safe in the water. Just don’t know how to swim.”
His dad said Sebastian learned a lot during the week and made great progress of being comfortable in the water, despite not knowing how to swim.
“He went from being scared the first day, to brave the last,” Campbell said. “He learned a lot. A lot. He became a lot more comfortable, and a lot more confident in himself. This was something that we both could get up in the morning and do together.”
Botkins resident Susan Leugers, grandmother of Bryce Lukey, 10, and Zach Luckey, 10, of rural Sidney, said this is the third year she has brought her grandchildren to participate in water safety week. She said they love participating and have come a long way from the first year, when Zach would not put his face in the water.
“They have their own swimming pool in the backyard. So they go home and practice what they learn here in their own pool,” Leugers said. “You can’t be too safe when around water. Here they learn not only to save themselves, but also save someone else.”
She said the children remember the rescue portion and show their friends at home of how to save someone. During the week, the instructors had the children use a flotation device such as a “noodle,” lie on their stomachs near the edge of the pool and extend the noodle out to the person in trouble. Then they reeled-in the person toward the edge of the pool to save hom and keep themselves safe, too.
Fifth-year instructor and lifeguard Sonia Jaziri pointed out a student who was very timid at first and who was jumping into the pool within a few days. Dane Reffner, 7, son of Amy and Eric Reffner of West Mansfield, gave the aquatics staff a thank-you card for their help.
Dane was very anxious on day 1, his mother said. He and his sister, Delaney, 6, participated for the first time this week and had no prior swim lessons.
“At the beginning of the week, he was a little anxious and scared of getting into the water. On Monday, Sonia had to convince him to that she would get into the water with him on Tuesday, and so he made good on his promise with her that he would get in. So she swam with him a little bit on Tuesday. And then (Wednesday) he took the dive off the deep end over here. So he’s come leaps and bounds,” Amy Reffner, who ius formerly from Sidney, said.
“I think that he finally was feeling comfortable and secure in his environment here and felt safe and that nothing bad was going to happen to him. From Monday of, ‘I don’t feel good. I just want to be with my mom,’ to now,” she said.
Reffner said they have a pond at their house and always has her children in life jackets around water. Coming to water safety week, she said, was a “good starting point.” Next, Reffner plans to register Dane and Delaney for swim lessons this summer.
“We are trying to transition to a point where we are starting to swim and be OK in the water (without always wearing life jackets),” Reffner said.
“The week went very well. It was very well run. We even received feedback from parents who, even though the week is about water safety, felt their children were in a safe place going through this program this week. And that’s always good to hear,” said Sidney-Shelby County YMCA Operations Director David O’Leary. “Sonia has been the one largely in charge of this program, and she said that’s what her reward is, to see the smiles on the faces of the kids and to know that they are safer after going through a program like this. That’s what it’s all about, obviously, water safety week.
“You can never say thank you enough to the sponsors, those that make this happen. Certainly you always want to thank the parents, and families, grandparents, whoever took time out of their day to bring the kids here to have the opportunity to go through the program,” O’Leary said.
The aquatics staff hope children will sign up for swim lessons as a result of the week. The YMCA offers private, one-on-one; semi-private, of two or more; and group swim lessons.
For information about swim lessons at the YMCA, call 492-9134.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.