Editorial: Swim skills can make a difference

Whether they occur close to home or across the country, some deaths are so overwhelmingly tragic that they have the power to spur us all to collective action.

We hope that’s the case with the heartbreaking incident that occurred this week in Shreveport, La. Six teenagers — two sets of three siblings — drowned while trying to rescue another member of their group. None of the victims knew how to swim.

Here on the Central Coast, where practically every high school has a swimming pool, and some lucky youngsters grow up with the beach practically in their backyards, it’s easy to assume that all of our children have the opportunity to learn to swim — or to at least become water-safe at an early age.

That is a false — and dangerous — assumption.

Just ask Cindy Bainbridge, who helps coordinate the Summer of Swim program at Nipomo High School.

A project of the school’s Interact Club, SOS provides scholarships to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to take swim lessons. A set of 10 lessons that normally costs $85 is offered to students at a discounted rate of $15. Each child also gets a free bathing suit.

Referrals come from social service agencies, nonprofit organizations, local schools and word of mouth. The demand is such that SOS can’t keep up.

“I never have enough scholarships,” said Bainbridge, a Nipomo High School teacher and Interact Club adviser.

That doesn’t mean she’s not grateful; Bainbridge is generous in her praise of a community that’s kept the program going since it was started several years ago by Girl Scouts Margaret Martin and Lisa Beedle.

Martin and Beedle sold tamales to raise funds for the first 50 scholarships. When they left for college, they turned the program over to Beedle’s sister, Missy, who has since graduated. Now another Nipomo High School student, Nydella Zarate, handles much of the coordination.

Over the years, about 300 youngsters have taken swim lessons, thanks to SOS.

Yet Bainbridge knows there’s still a need. Next summer, she would love to see the program expand to more local high schools. So would we.

We certainly don’t want to overlook other community organizations that provide free and low-cost lessons: The San Miguel Lions Club, for example, has generously provided free beginning swim lessons for North County youngsters. But we especially like the idea of high school students taking on such a valuable project.

The fact is, swim lessons can be costly, and for working parents, it can be difficult to schedule the time to get youngsters to and from a swimming pool. Encouragement in the form of free or reduced-cost lessons, an offer of a swimsuit or a ride to the pool can make a huge difference to a child.

It could even save a life.

To find out more about Summer of Swim or to make a donation, contact Cindy Bainbridge at Nipomo High School, 525 N. Thompson Road, Nipomo 93444, or e-mail cbainbridge@lmusd.org.