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Louisiana Splash and Water Safety celebrates 1 year

LAPLACE — The rates of drowning for 1 to 4 year olds in Louisiana are double the national average, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s a statistic that keeps Louisiana Splash and Water Safety founder Melynie Wright up at night. Death by drowning is a “needless epidemic,” according to Wright, an American Red Cross Certified Water Safety Instructor.

Melynie Wright has taught more than130 children and 75 adults how to swim this summer.

This summer alone, Wright and fellow certified instructor Anita Hefler have put in more than 300 volunteer hours to teach 130-plus children and more than 75 adults how to swim. The low-to-no-cost lessons, held in the mornings and evenings, have been a passion project in between full-time careers.

Another round of adult participants and 15 first responders are signed up for August classes, and there are another 60 to 70 adults enrolled in water aerobics. However, there is still much work to do.

“I go to sleep, and I know I’ve made a difference,” Wright said. “It’s the ones I haven’t been able to touch yet that keep me awake at night. We’ve got so much demand coming through right now. We can’t meet the demand. That’s how many don’t know how to swim. The reality is there’s been this hole in life that hasn’t been filled, and we’re just trying to do the best we can to fill it.”

Kelly Detiege and her 16-year-old twins were among those to take swimming lessons with Wright and Hefler this summer.

Like others, they experienced the triumph of swimming across the daunting distance of the pool over deep water.

Detiege said Louisiana Splash and Water Safety lessons are effective because the instructors explain the purpose behind every lesson, even if it’s just treading water and floating.

American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor Anita Hefler works with a swimmer last week at Belle Terre Country Club in LaPlace.

“My twins are taking lessons with (Wright), and I think they have learned more with her as the instructor than they have every learned in previous lessons because she gives you the reason why,” Detiege said. “In the morning, I go and tap on their door at 6:45, and they are already in suits and they’re up. They’re 16-year-olds on summer vacation, and they’re up and ready to come early.”

Detiege moved to St. John Parish about a year ago, and she said the swim lessons and water aerobics classes have given her a chance to bond with others in the community.

The same goes for Ann Harvey, a successful business owner who has resided in St. John Parish since 1978.

“I decided to come out, and I enjoy it,” Harvey said. “I’m declining from my work world and trying to find more things to relax because my hobby was working. Now I have another hobby. This experience has allowed me to intermingle with neighbors and people that have lived right here.”

Harvey, 65, said her time in the pool has helped her joints, and she no longer panics for breath when walking up stairs.

“It’s really like I have a whole new lease on life,” Harvey said.

Roxane Madere has experienced similar results. Though she’s had a total knee replacement, stiffness and pain seem to disappear the more time she spends in the water.

Audrey Alexis, 74, signed up for classes to challenge herself to stay active.

“I love it,” Alexis said. “It’s not just for me, but for me to be able to help somebody else or encourage somebody that’s home or on medication, doing nothing. I encourage a lot of ladies and tell them you’ve got to take time out for yourself.”

Teaching adults to be self-sufficient swimmers is especially important because of the domino effect it presents, according to Wright. If a child is drowning at a pool party, it’s essential that adults know how to dive in and help instead of relying on emergency services, which often arrive too late.

“It begins with education,” Wright said. “It begins with accessibility and desire. You can’t put a cost on a swim lesson because you should know how to swim like you know how to breathe.”

Wright thanks St. John United Way, Marathon Petroleum Company, the LaPlace Lions Club, the River Region Chamber of Commerce and Belle Terre Country Club for helping Louisiana Splash and Water Safety make a difference in countless lives.

“Thank God for these groups, but we need so much more,” Wright said. “We can be the hands and feet. We just need the community to step up and be the body so we can work together to help the community.”

Donations can be made to Lasplashandwatersafety, 2820 New Highway 51 Suite B LaPlace, Louisiana 70068.