The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble joined local and state elected officials and the Connecticut Institute For Communities (CIFC) leaders at the Danbury Community Center (DCC) today to announce $128,000 to fund free swimming lessons to qualifying children. The partnership with the CIFC will enable children ages 17 and under to receive free swim lessons at the DCC pool.
The program, funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds authorized by the Lamont Administration and State Legislature, is expected to serve 300 children each year. Children who live in a qualified census tract and/or receive SNAP benefits - or are recommended to the program - are eligible to register for the free swimming lessons from CIFC at Danbury’s only public-access pool. These lessons are one of numerous DEEP initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in outdoor recreation activities in State Parks and Forests.
“DEEP is excited to partner with the CIFC to provide children more opportunities to learn how to swim,” said DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble. “Swimming is the basis of many great outdoor experiences for children and families here in Connecticut. Sadly, swimming ability plays a role in drowning deaths that occur in swimming pools, lakes, rivers and on our shoreline. While it seems like the summer swimming season is a long way off, this is a great time for children to learn to swim. The partnership with CIFC complements DEEP’s partnerships with Connecticut YMCAs and the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain to ensure children from additional communities can learn how to swim, be safe around the water, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies.”
DEEP’s partnerships with Connecticut YMCAs and the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain has resulted in more than 2,000 children learning how to swim since lessons began in November, 2022.
“This is a public health crisis, and as the only publicly available pool in downtown Danbury, we see the DCC’s role as helping many Danbury youth learn to swim. Additionally, opportunities for recreation are so important to the well-being of our youth, individuals, and families when we note that obesity, mental health challenges, and lack of access to recreational activities and facilities all disproportionately impact minority and low-income communities, as well as individuals of color,” said Katie Curran, CEO of the Connecticut Institute For Communities, Inc.
“Free swimming lessons will save lives — preventing some of the hundreds of drownings that occur to children every year,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal. Using federal funds to teach kids how to enjoy water safely will prevent senseless tragedies. Thanks to organizations like CIFC — and their swim lessons — kids will have brighter, better futures.”
“Learning to swim is not just a rite of passage – it’s a lifesaving skill. But not every family can afford swim lessons, and that’s why I’ve worked for over a decade to make sure the cost of lessons doesn’t stand in the way of kids learning to swim. I’m proud to see the American Rescue Plan support this vital program that will not only save hundreds of kids from potential drowning but also introduce them to a lifelong activity to enjoy with friends and family,” said Senator Chris Murphy.
“Each year the lives of too many children are claimed from drowning,” Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz said. “Initiatives like these, in partnership with community organizations like CIFC, will not only save lives, but also provide children with a fun, recreational activity that will create a valuable, lifelong skill.”
“When my daughter was little, she took swimming lessons in this same pool. I have fond memories of taking her to these lessons and I’m excited this opportunity will be available to the community. Knowing how to swim is not only a great recreational activity, but it was also help save lives,” said State Senator Julie Kushner (D-Danbury, New Fairfield, Ridgefield)
"’It takes a village to raise a child’ includes knowledge, skills, and lessons for children to thrive. Learning to swim is one thing we must do for both safety and fun. Thank you CIFC and DEEP for making it happen,” said State Representative Bob Godfrey (D-Danbury).
Additionally, DEEP has already begun hiring lifeguards for next year at the State’s shoreline and inland swimming areas, including at Squantz Pond State Park in New Fairfield.
Connecticut is fortunate to have access to local pools, Long Island Sound, and many local lakes and ponds. However, access to swimming lessons is limited. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more children ages 1-4 die from drowning in the United States than any other cause of death, and two children die every day from drowning. For children ages 5-14, drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury or death.
Drowning death rates for Black people are 1.5 times higher than the rates for White people. Disparities are highest among Black children ages 5-9 (rates 2.6 times higher) and ages 10-14 (rates 3.6 times higher). In underserved communities, 79% of children who live in households with incomes less than $50,000 have no/low swimming ability.
This Free Swim Lessons program is part of DEEP’s broad, ongoing focus on DEI, and part of the specific DEI in Parks Initiative for 2023, which focuses on improving equitable access to the outdoors. Additional DEI-related projects DEEP has pursued as part of this initiative include:
- Piloted a partnership with the Student Conservation Association to provide internships in Connecticut State Parks, recognizing that in a study of Black employees in the National Park Service, 14 out of 15 interviewees mentioned an internship as their first introduction to State and National parks in general.
- Hired a DEI consultant to facilitate listening sessions on advancing racial diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors.
- Made DEI a priority in DEEP’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP), the 5-year strategic plan for the state’s outdoor recreation resources and programs, by issuing surveys and collecting data to identify additional opportunities where DEEP can further invest in DEI-related improvements.