SOCIAL ISSUES

ZAC Foundation looks to avoid tragedy by teaching kids to swim

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Asha Atkinson spoke to NJTV News about her son, Cairo, and about his day at the ZAC Camp. He’s been taking swimming lessons since he was a baby but it’s his first time participating in the four day water safety program run in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of Camden County.

“It’s really important for him to know how to swim, for him to learn water safety,” said Atkinson. “A lot of kids, I work in the school district, and a lot of kids don’t know how to swim and they’re afraid of water.”

After some safety information the kids jumped into the pool for swimming lessons.

“I would say about 60 percent of them don’t know how to swim. This is their first time in the water. They’re learning how to doggy paddle, how to float, how to get out of a pool safely,” said the executive director of the ZAC Foundation, Megan Ferraro.

The ZAC Camp is here in Camden for that exact reason. The ZAC Foundation started over a decade ago after a couple lost their 6 year old son, Zachary, in an accident in their pool.

“Zachary was a very accomplished swimmer. His arm became stuck in the pool drain and he drowned as a result of being pinned under the water,” said Ferraro.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says from 2005 to 2014 over 3,500 people died from unintentional drownings each year in the United States. That’s about ten people dying per day. And the CDC says 1 in 5 are children 14 and younger.

“It was really important to us to bring water safety and drowning prevention information into communities that really, deeply needed it,” said Ferraro.

Disparities are also highlighted by the most recent CDC data, which looked at drownings between 1999 and 2010. According to the CDC African American children ages 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than whites. Among 11 and 12 year olds that rate is 10 times higher.

“I think often times it has to do with the area in which they live,” Ferraro explained. “How many public pools are available to black and African American communities, how easy is it for parents to transport their children to swimming lessons, how easy is it for them to afford swimming lessons, swimming lessons are expensive. And the biggest factor, is really that generational fear.”

Atkinson says she nearly drowned when she was eight years old.

“I had an incident where I was playing at a pool and I thought it was shallow and I jumped in and it was deeper than what I thought and I panicked, and my mom is a person who doesn’t know how to swim and she couldn’t save me, and somebody eventually came along and jumped in and pulled me out of the water.”

Her parents immediately enrolled her in swimming lessons so that would never happen to her again. That’s why she made sure her son knows how to swim. The ZAC Camp has given that same opportunity to nearly 15 thousand children over the last decade.