Olympic Medal winners teach underprivileged children about water safety

What could be more inspiring for a child than to have an Olympic Medal winner in swimming telling stories about water safety and swimming techniques and play water games with him or her in a pool! It may seem like a dream to many children but this dream came true for 32 underprivileged children and their 18 family members near the Wood Finishes and Adhesives operations in Roanoke, Virginia. Two U.S. Olympian swimmers, Ian Crocker and Misty Hyman were recently invited by our WFA colleagues to join this special group and share their experiences with them.

Based on the number of children that die each year from not knowing how to swim, our colleagues had decided to help out the underprivileged children in their community. Research shows that drowning statistics are far worse in African-American and Hispanic communities where children drown at a rate almost three times higher than Caucasian children in similar age groups. The volunteering employees researched what resources would be needed to organize the event and asked for support from the Community Program which was granted.

A team of more than 30 volunteering employees and their family members was formed and the various tasks during the event were divided. These varied from organizing transportation, cooking and serving lunch, taking pictures from each child with the Olympians as a memento from the event, to preparing a water safety brochure and have it printed and distributed to each participant. Graciously, the Virginia Gators Swim Club made the use of their aquatics center for the event available for free and the invitations could be sent out.

Thirty-two children in the ages from 8 to 18 worked and played with the two U.S. Olympian swimmers. The athletes – along with our volunteers – spent the day teaching the kids water safety procedures and swimming techniques, and playing water games. Roanoke General Manager James Bray was one of the participants and explained: "Fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of injury-related death for children aged one to fourteen. We are around water every day – swimming pools, rivers, ponds, lakes and bathtubs. We don’t realize how important it is to teach our children water safety."

Bray said that, together with Crocker and Hyman, they tried to inspire the children to have a dream and realize that their dream can come true. Ian and Misty were once normal kids with dreams, and they worked hard to make their dreams come true. Ian and Misty both told their personal stories to the children and then talked about how the body, mind and heart affect swimming. Then they all got wet! In the pool, Ian and Misty worked with each child on their swimming strokes, and ended the instruction with fun and challenging games.

Roanoke employees were inspired by the event. Linda Carter, first time participant in a Community Program event, felt a strong connection to this project since her sister drowned at age three. She said: "You could see the excitement in the kids’ faces. They asked some very good questions about water safety. I felt they went home feeling that dreams are not too big to fulfil – it just takes setting a goal and working hard to reach it."

Another enthusiastic volunteer involved was Greg Turpin. He said: "It was great to see all the AkzoNobel volunteers sharing in the teamwork and fellowship. I do this because giving back to our community is a great feeling personally. I am also especially proud to have had my son with me at this event as well as all the previous projects – it sets an example that giving back is a good thing to do."