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DEEP Announces Free Swimming Lesson Program in Partnership with Boys Girls Club of New Britain

Qualifying children in Hartford, Meriden, and New Britain to benefit from DEEP initiative to make outdoor recreation more accessible and inclusive to residents

(New Britain, CT) – Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“DEEP”) Commissioner Katie Dykes joined local and state elected officials, and Boys & Girls Club of New Britain (BGCNB) leaders today to announce $250,000 to fund free swimming lessons to qualifying children at the BGCNB pool deck. The partnership with the BGCNB will enable children 17 and under to receive free swim lessons at the facility’s pool.


The program, funded through federal American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) funds authorized by the Lamont Administration and State Legislature, is expected to serve 300 children each year. Boys & Girls Club members in New Britain, Hartford, and Meriden, 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 at the BGCNB. These lessons are one of numerous DEEP initiatives aimed at increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in outdoor recreation activities in State Parks and Forests.

"It’s such a benefit for young children to learn how to swim. It’s fun and helps them to build confidence – and on hot days like we’ve been having this summer, it’s a great way to stay active and keep cool! But perhaps most importantly, learning to swim can keep them safe," said Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz. "There are undoubtedly barriers to entry for swim lessons, but through DEEP providing free swim lessons we are offering an accessible program that save lives and bring joy to hundreds of children. Thank you to DEEP Commissioner Dykes for the exceptional work on making this program a reality."

“DEEP is excited to be partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of New Britain to expand opportunities for children to learn how to swim,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “Connecticut’s outdoor recreation season is in full swing, and swimming is the basis of many great outdoor experiences for children and families. Unfortunately, drowning deaths occur in swimming pools, lakes, rivers and on our shoreline, and in many cases, swimming ability plays a role.  The partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of New Britain will enhance DEEP’s partnership with Connecticut YMCAs to ensure children from additional communities can learn how to swim, be safe around the water, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies.”

“Within the depths of water lies the power to transform lives, teaching resilience, instilling confidence, and unlocking a world of possibilities. Through our partnership, we empower children to dive fearlessly into their dreams and swim towards a brighter future,” said James Jones, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain.

“Swimming skills are essential as the summer season brings many outdoor activities enjoyed across the state at our many beautiful lakes, ocean, and pools. I therefore applaud the partnership between DEEP and the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain to reach and teach our children how to keep themselves safe in the water,” said State Rep. Manny Sanchez (D-New Britain). “I thank Governor Lamont and our legislative leaders for authorizing this important lifesaving use of ARPA funds.”

“I'm thrilled to see the work Senator Anwar, myself, and the Committee on Children did to ensure that federal ARPA dollars serve the safety and wellness of children through swimming lessons continues. This is exactly the program we envisioned - children in communities which historically have low rates of swimming proficiency be offered the opportunity for safety, fun, and exercise. Many thanks once again to the Governor, DEEP, and the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain for delivering this much needed service,” said State Rep Liz Linehan (D-Cheshire).

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 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 DEI in Parks Initiative for 2023, which focuses on improving equitable access to the outdoors. Additional DEI-related projects DEEP is pursuing as part of this initiative include:

  • Piloting 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.
    • Improving our seasonal staff recruitment processes by launching recruiting efforts earlier, raising the seasonal salary pay range to $15-19/hour, and piloting partnership with local community colleges.
  • Making 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.
  • Providing additional youth group camping sites to provide children with opportunities for a positive outdoor experience.
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