Hawaii Red Cross celebrates 50th anniversary for free summer swim program

Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow (right center) taught lifeguarding techniques to beach boys like Duke Kahanamoku (left center). Commodore Longfellow founded the Red Cross Water Safety and Lifeguarding program, developed the Learn To Swim Program, and created the National Red Cross Life Saving Corps in 1914. Commodore Longfellow pioneered water safety on his quest to "waterproof America" over the next 33 years. He was successful as the drowning rates were cut in half over this time period. Photo taken in 1928. Photo courtesy Hawaii Red Cross.

The Hawaii Red Cross is celebrating its 50th anniversary of free swimming lessons for keiki and adults at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Since 1964, the Red Cross has taught thousands of Hawaii residents how to swim, especially those who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

“Part of our mission is to save lives,” says Coralie Matayoshi, CEO, Hawaii Red Cross, on the purpose of the program. “Hawaii has the second highest drowning rate in the nation so it’s really important for everyone to learn how to swim. We are surrounded by water, and anything can happen.”

According to the State Department of Health, on average, 238 people nearly drown in Hawaii each year, of which about 54 percent are residents. In addition, each year, an average of 67 people drown in Hawaii, and half are residents. Statewide, drowning is the 5th leading cause of fatal injuries and nationwide, drowning is the 2nd leading cause of accidental death of children ages 1-14. The best way to prevent these types of tragic incidences is to learn how to swim.

“Some people think that they don’t need to know how to swim because they don’t go near the water,” says Matayoshi. “But sometimes the water comes to you. For example, you can get caught in a flash flood or tsunami water, or a dam or levy could break. Now is the time to make sure you and your loved ones are prepared for those types of situations.”

The Red Cross is also celebrating its 100th anniversary of its swim programs. In 1917, Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow developed the Red Cross water safety education program and traveled all across the United States in his quest to “waterproof America.” In 1928, he even traveled to Hawaii to teach lifeguarding techniques to beach boys like Duke Kahanamoku. The effectiveness of Commodore’s efforts is evidenced in the drop in the drowning death rate in the U. S. from 102 per 100,000 population in 1910, to 3.4 per 100,000 population by 1962.

“Swimming is not innate.” says Matayoshi. “It is a skill that must be taught, but once learned, this lifetime skill saves lives.”

2014 Summer Swim Program Schedule

Keiki Learn to Swim (Ages 3 to 12)
Saturdays, June 7, 14, 21, 28
9:00 to 10:00AM
Ages 3 &4: Parent/Child Aquatics Level 1 (5+): Introduction to Water Skills Level 2 (5+): Fundamental Aquatic Skills

Adult Learn to Swim (Ages 13+)
Saturdays, June 7, 14, 21, 28
9:00 to 10:00AM
Level 2: Fundamentals of Aquatic Skills (includes Non-swimmer, Beginner, Advanced)

Registration. Started May 1, register online at redcross.org/takeaclass or by calling 1-800-733-2767. The course fee is $40 but for free registration, enter Coupon Code P298HILTS0714. Enrollment is limited.

Summer Buddies Program for Teen Volunteers. The Red Cross is looking for teens volunteers (ages 14-18) to help with the summer swim program.

For more info call the Red Cross at 739-8179 and leave a message or sign up at redcross.org/hawaii

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