More than 60 first- and second-grade students entered the Smith Family YMCA pool deck on a Monday. Some of them had never stepped foot in a pool. Many had no previous swimming experience. But these students, hailing from Fairmont School District in Lockport, came ready to learn—that was clear by the excitement, laughter and energy that filled the air. By Friday, each of them completed their first week of swimming lessons. Day by day, they developed critical water safety skills, slowly but surely becoming strong, confident swimmers.
Lessons were held for an hour each day, all free of charge through a YMCA outreach program called Project SOAR, or “Smith Opportunities for Activities and Recreation.” Since launching in 2008, SOAR has provided more than 10,000 swimming lessons for area youth by partnering with neighboring community organizations and schools.
On the first day of lessons, every participating Fairmont student received a brand new swimsuit. Each swimsuit was individually picked and donated by Cheri Rubocki, a longtime YMCA member and volunteer who sits on the Greater Joliet Area YMCA Board of Directors, and her daughter, Savannah, who formerly swam for the Joliet Y JETS Swim Team.
To accommodate the large group, the Smith Family YMCA enlisted staff and volunteers from within its parent association, the Greater Joliet Area YMCA. Senior Vice President and Chief Operation Officer Katy Leclair, a lifelong swimmer who started her Y career as an aquatics coordinator, was one of 15 instructors to lead the daily lessons.
“For many kids, the Y is the starting point to learn about being active and developing healthy habits. But the benefits are far greater than just physical health,” Leclair said. “Our programs exist to lift them up and push them forward, whether it’s to help them gain the confidence that comes from learning to swim or build positive relationships with strong role models.”
Through hands-on instruction, the children learned foundational water skills, including safe pool entry, floating, treading and gliding, among other skills they’ll carry with them throughout their lives. At the end of the week, each student received a certificate of completion, a YMCA family day pass and bracelet that reads “I Learned to Swim at the Y!”
“The YMCA went above and beyond to ensure these lessons were a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience for our students,” said Dr. Diane Cepela, Fairmont School District Superintendent. “We are genuinely looking forward to more collaborative opportunities in the future.”