Free St. John pool lessons save lives; adult classes next

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

RESERVE — A father and his 7-year-old daughter were found dead at the bottom of a New Orleans hotel pool Saturday.

Another child drowned in Raceland on July 4, and, over the past few weeks, four children have died as a result of drownings on the Northshore.

The news of each one distresses Melynie Wright, which is why Wright donates her time to teach swimming lessons for the St. John the Baptist Parish Recreation Department.

Melynie Wright said child-to-child tips are taught.

Wright and fellow volunteer Anita Hefler taught more than 170 children, including some with special needs, how to swim last month.

Later this month they will teach more than 60 adults.

Adult classes will be held at 5:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Monday through July 21 at the Regala Park Pool on Regala Park Road in Reserve. The class is free and open to the public. Each 45-minute session focuses on floating, kicking, breathing, arm movement and swimming to the side of the pool.

Those are necessary skills for everyone, Wright says.

“Swimming is one of the most tantamount things that every person should be able to do, especially living in south Louisiana,” Wright said.

Drowning is the second leading cause of death to children under age five, after motor vehicle deaths, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Statistics show 350 children under the age of 5 drown in pools each year. Most occur during the summer months of June, July and August.

Another 2,600 children are treated for near-drownings.

Wright said it’s important for children to know how to swim and what to do in the event a child falls into a pool.

“Most of them say they would jump in after them, but they don’t know how to swim either,” Wright said.

It’s also important for parents to know how to swim.

Wright and Hefler helped more than 30 River Parishes residents to overcome their fears of water and learn to swim during the weeklong class in 2016.

This year’s sign-up nearly doubles that amount.

“I think it’s partly word of mouth,” Wright said. “Anita and I have our hands in a lot of different things and we talk to a lot of different people. When it’s summer time, you get to talking about swimming and there’s so much press about drownings. It makes people aware. My first question to people all the time, even if I just met you five minutes ago, is always, ‘Do you know how to swim?’”

Thanks to Wright and Hefler, scores of children and adults are learning.

Over two weeks in June, Hefler, Wright and some of the Parish’s regular lifeguards broke the large group of children down to about three classes per night.

The women also teach private lessons before and after the classes at no charge.

“How can I put a price tag on saving someone’s life?” Wright said.

For more information about the swimming class and other water programs call 985-652-9569 or visit