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Water safety saves lives; swim lessons open for summer 2021

LAPLACE — COVID-19 did not decrease the demand for swimming lessons last summer, according to Melynie Wright of Louisiana Splash and Water Safety. Instructors wore scuba masks for safety and worked with approximately 110 individuals across St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes in 2020.

The goal this year is to work with at least 120 individuals, though the ripple effect of Louisiana Splash and Water Safety extends much further. Louisiana ranks second in the nation in drowning of children ages 1 to 4, and every swim lesson is a chance to save a life.

Wright and Anita Hefler are American Red Cross certified water safety instructors who have taught swim lessons for more than 20 years. They founded Louisiana Splash and Water Safety two years ago to provide accessibility to swimming lessons, water safety and health programs to any and all individuals, regardless of age, race, gender, ability, capability or financial status.

Wright conquered her own fear of water and went on to become an LSU swimmer. She said the impact of teaching people to swim is unimaginable.

“It’s the people that you don’t interact with that reap the benefit of what you do. It’s the family member who no longer has fear that their kid may fall in their grandparents’ pool. It’s the lives that you don’t touch that are potentially saved, like when a kid is saved after falling in the pool because an adult nearby took swim lessons. It’s a domino effect that lasts generations,” she said.

Wright believes swim lessons should be compulsory, much like attending school. Lessons are offered for ages 3 to 100 and are inclusive to special needs individuals. Louisiana Splash and Water Safety also specializes in first responder swim lessons, water aerobics classes, private/public pool safety consultations and water safety education.

Wright and Hefler will once again assist with St. John Parish’s learn to swim program. Residents can check sjbparish.com for up-to-date information about dates, times and registration. Louisiana Splash and Water Safety will also partner with St. John Parish to offer water aerobics, which have been linked with lowered blood pressure, weight loss and improved blood flow to the legs.

Water aerobics can also increase motor skills, leading to a better quality of life.

“Water aerobics is a low impact sport that affects all of the muscles in your body, and the health benefits are exponential,” Wright said.

Ann Harvey has participated in both water aerobics and swim lessons, which led to her learning how to swim for the first time at 66 years old. She’s now extending the water skills she’s learned to her family members.

“I am now training my grandchildren and teaching them the importance of water safety. I learned a whole lot from it, and I would encourage anybody, especially people living in Louisiana, to take advantage of this program. The instructors are second to none,” Harvey said.

She added that the water aerobics classes presented a fun way to lose weight, and she plans to participate again.

Water aerobics and swim lessons will also be offered in LaPlace through a continued partnership with Belle Terre Country Club. Private backyard lessons can also be arranged in the tri-parish area.

Leslie Williams is grateful that Wright gave both her daughters the gift of learning how to swim.

“Melynie dedicates herself to teaching children how to swim. She is an amazing person who truly has a gift. Both of my girls were terrified of the water when she started with them, and now they are both strong swimmers. I am forever thankful to Melynie,” Williams said. “We now have a swimming pool in our backyard and I am confident that my girls are safe.  Melynie continues her work today. She has taught numerous children, including my niece and nephew. This is a gift that lasts a lifetime and can be lifesaving!”

Kelly McGovern said Louisiana Splash and Water Safety started teaching her son water survival skills at 3 years old.

“My parents have an in-ground pool, and he’s over there all the time. He learned to swim to the side and grab onto floating devices,” McGovern said.

Her child went from being scared of the water to becoming a little fish who’s now joining the Belle Terre Piranhas swim team. McGovern said it is amazing to see what Wright and Hefler are doing for local families without concern for financial gain.

In the past year, Wright has also worked with law enforcement officers strengthening their water skills, young men heading to military boot camp and local Boy Scouts looking to earn merit badges in the water.

Louisiana Splash and Water Safety provides tools such as swim paddles and swim dumbbells to simulate water resistance. The nonprofit also provides rubber grips to go on the handles of a pool to help swimmers enter and exit safely.

“We want to limit accident and injury around the pool, increase health benefits, increase joy and give you a lifesaving skill,” Wright said. “We are making it safe for a family with young children to have a backyard pool. We’re teaching people what they should wear in a boat. We’ll sit in Walmart to engage families and see what the kids know about water safety.”

While the pandemic has not decreased the need for water safety education, it has partially decreased financial support from businesses and private donors. Donations make it possible for Louisiana Splash and Water Safety to make water safety services accessible to all.

For more information, email louisianasplashandwatersafety@gmail.com, visit lasplashandwatersafety.org or call 225-328-6084.