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DEEP Stew Leonard and Greater Waterbury YMCA Highlight the Importance of Water Safety

(HARTFORD)—Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble joined Stew Leonard, Jr., President and CEO of regional supermarket company Stew Leonard’s, and Co-founder of the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation; and officials from the Greater Waterbury YMCA Wednesday at Black Rock State Park to promote swimming safety and the importance of swim lessons, ahead of what’s likely to be a busy July Fourth holiday weekend on Connecticut waterbodies. DEEP Lifeguards also conducted a water safety demonstration Wednesday with children from the Greater Waterbury YMCA.

Every year, tragic and preventable accidents occur in swimming pools, lakes, rivers, or on our shoreline. Following swimming safety recommendations and learning to swim allows children and adults to confidently and safely enjoy the incredible outdoor recreation Connecticut has to offer. The Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation and DEEP have each partnered with the YMCA and other organizations to provide free swim lessons to qualifying and underserved children around the state.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, but it is preventable. Children who receive swim lessons are 88% less likely to drown.

“We are proud to join the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation and the Greater Waterbury YMCA to promote the importance of water safety ahead of the 4th of July Holiday as more people head to swimming pools, lakes, rivers, or the Connecticut shoreline,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said. “Swimming is an essential skill that every person should have the opportunity to learn. DEEP has been proud to partner with the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club of New Britain, and the Connecticut Institute for Communities, Inc. to provide free swim lessons to thousands of children around the state. I urge everyone considering getting in the water this summer to know their limits and heed safe swimming guidance.”

“We lost our 21-month-old son Stewie to a drowning accident in 1989 during a family gathering, said Stew Leonard. “It wasn't a lack of supervision, but a LAPSE of supervision. Sign up your kids for swim lessons to learn lifesaving water skills and always assign an adult to watch children when they are near the water - and put your phones down! When everyone is watching, no one is watching."

"The collaboration with DEEP has allowed over 4,000 children in the state of Connecticut access to swim lessons,” said Jim O’Rourke, Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Waterbury YMCA. “Learning to swim is a vital life-saving skill." 

DEEP has partnered with the YMCAs, Boys and Girls Club of New Britain and Connecticut Institute for Communities to offer free swim lessons to qualifying children in the state of Connecticut.  The program was funded by a more than $1 million authorization from the Lamont Administration and Connecticut Legislature using ARPA funds.

The YMCA of Greater Waterbury administers a program with 14 YMCAs in Connecticut and has provided over 3,900 lessons to 3,229 participants. The Boys and Girls Club of New Britain has provided lessons to 608 children in New Britain, Hartford, and Meriden. The Connecticut Institute for Communities has provided lessons to 420 participants in the greater Danbury area as of June 2024. The three programs, combined, have had 4,257 participants, and held nearly 5,000 lessons. All three partners are continuing to provide swim lessons to eligible participants.

The Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation has raised $6 million since it was founded in 1990.

These funds have supported 250,000 free and low-cost swim lessons for underserved children and trained thousands of lifeguards throughout Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.In Connecticut, the foundation supports 18 learn-to-swim programs that will teach more than 1,500 local children to swim this year. The Stewie the Duck Swim School gives away 10,000 lessons a year, and all proceeds from the school will go towards teaching children in need to swim for free. Go here for more information on the Stewie the Duck Swim School.

The partners at today’s event urged all residents and visitors recreating in, on, or near the water to prioritize water safety. That can start with taking a swim lesson.People of all ages should consider signing up for a swimming class offered at local YMCAs or municipal parks and recreation departments. 

Some safety tips to keep in mind when swimming at state waterbodies include:

  • Parents and caregivers: Watch your children. Drowning is quick and silent. Stay within arm’s reach of kids in the water. 
  • Drink responsibly: Excessive alcohol consumption impairs judgment and reaction ability. Even prescription drugs may impair judgment. Swim sober. 
  • Swim only in the designated areas, and swim with a buddy.
  • Know your limits, including physical fitness and medical conditions. 
  • Be aware of underwater hazards: Natural swimming areas can have sudden drop-offs, holes, large rocks, or tree roots that can’t be easily seen from the surface. Diving and jumping into these waters can be dangerous.
  • Children, inexperienced swimmers, and all boaters should wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.

DEEP Stew Leonard YMCA Photo

Attached Photo:  DEEP, Stew Leonard, and the Greater Waterbury YMCA all highlighted the importance of water safety and taking swim lessons on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, at Black Rock State Park in Watertown, CT.

People in the photo are, from left, Jim O'Rourke, CEO of the Greater Waterbury YMCA, DEEP Deputy Commissioner Mason Trumble, Stewie the Duck, DEEP Water Safety Coordinator Sarah Battistini, and Stew Leonard, Jr. Attribution: CT DEEP

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