Junior Wai Koa (pronounced “why–co–uh” and Hawaiian for “water warrior”) is a Live Water Foundation pillar program that allows us to provide an unforgettable summer camp experience for historically underserved children through a partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA). Twice a week for six weeks, we facilitate stand up paddle board lessons and Chesapeake Bay restoration-centered educational experiences for youth who live in HACA communities, both of which serve to strengthen and solidify their connection to the watershed. It is also an opportunity to build relationships within the community and provide inspiration for the children.
This year, we were able to add a new component to the program, focused on the fundamentals of swimming. We partnered with a former collegiate diver, Erika Matheis, who created and led the curriculum based on standards of the American Swimming Coaches Association. Two of our board members who acted as facilitators got their lifeguard certification in order to become more effective instructors.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death among American children and youth under 14 years old, and 88% of victims had insufficient formal swim training. Several studies, including one by the World Health Organization, have concluded that children and youth residing in historically under-resourced communities are at the greatest risk of drowning because they are unlikely to take swimming lessons or participate in recreational swimming. What’s more, the largest contributing factors in the learning gap are lack of access to pools and training materials as well as stereotyping.
In addition to the facts above, we also observed first hand that children were typically more reluctant to engage in stand up paddle board or kayak lessons if they were unsure of their abilities in the water. We strongly desire to foster a connection between kids and the natural world, but we can’t guarantee a secure connection that will last a lifetime if we don’t help to alleviate the fear that often coincides with an inability to swim.
Part of our responsibility in providing this free program to historically under-resourced youth is to be constantly evolving and making the modifications we need to better serve their community. With this being our first year executing this element of our program, we’re extremely pleased with the results.
“Adding the swim lessons got [the kids] more comfortable in the water but also, the continuity for those that went through the swim program and moved into the paddle program was highly successful,” said Nancy Kobel, Live Water Foundation board member and volunteer. “We built real relationships over those weeks which helped them feel more comfortable with us.”
Swimming is a life skill, but unfortunately, many of us take for granted where our swim lessons came from. Just as free access to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay is in many ways limited to those who have the most privilege, swim lessons that are local and convenient are often available only to communities that can afford to regularly staff coaches, lifeguards, and equipment — on top of the expected team dues. We believe that adding this element to our Junior Wai Koa program is crucial when considering what equitable access to water sports looks like.
Much of the remainder of 2022 will be spent raising funds in an effort to begin off-season swim lessons to our Junior Wai Koa youth. The considerable progress that we saw this past season can be built upon substantially if we have the opportunity to reach these kids before summer begins.
As a group of paddle boarders who have found joy, inner peace, and even purpose in life on the water, we know how impactful a connection to it can be. If we can create a sense of comfort around water and remove the element of fear for some of our historically under-resourced youth, we can provide a tool for relaxation, recreation, and exercise that will last a lifetime.
We hope you’ll consider using your Combined Federal Campaign donation this year to help us bring this impactful program to even more youth.