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ALTS Lessons Produce Drastic Impact on Neighborhood in Texas

Between 75 and 100 people from the Fort Worth area have received ALTS lessons

Daniel Paulling | September 19, 2017

An entire neighborhood in Texas changed two years ago.

Four children from Como, a historically African-American community in Fort Worth, drowned in 2015, deaths that led the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition to partner with a local swim school and Como First Missionary Baptist Church to provide free swim lessons.

Ella Burton, who works for the church, estimates between 75 and 100 people from the neighborhood have learned water safety since then, most of them children. But, she says, the 10 or so adults who have completed the program now help the community.

“We had a number of adults that had never learned to swim, had a fear of water,” Burton says. “That might be common in the African-American community because of a lack of access or whatever the fears and other stigmas regarding that.

“(The children can adopt a mindset of,) ‘Hey, if grandma is getting in here and papaw and mom, maybe it’s going to be all right for me.’ That allowed us now to be water buddies.”

RELATED CONTENT: Fort Worth Masters Swimmers Find Mission in Drowning Prevention

In 2015, Burton took her grandson to the swimming lessons organized by the coalition, which received a grant from U.S. Masters Swimming’s Swimming Saves Lives Foundation. The foundation has donated nearly $335,000 to adult learn-to-swim programs since 2011.

The instructors persuaded Burton to join her grandson in taking lessons, which were on four consecutive weekdays for 30 minutes apiece over two weeks. The 67-year-old Burton had been comfortable sticking her feet in water and going in hot tubs, but she was hesitant about swimming because of her age and weight.

Still, she went through the program and can list the skills she’s learned: floating on her stomach and back, being able to swim strokes, learning how to keep her head above water. “See how smart I’ve gotten with this?” she says. “I didn’t know it at first.”

Burton also received a physical benefit from the program: She’s lost about 60 pounds.

“I needed to lose weight,” she says. “Being in the water has helped. I go on my own and I swim a little bit in the water now. I work out in the water. I’m in the water a lot.

“I can go the length of the pool. I’m not diving or anything like that. I don’t have the fear though. I think I can save myself is the bottom line.”

Burton hopes that many more people from her neighborhood join her.

“It just almost brings me to tears because of the impact it had on me and what a blessing it’s been to this community,” she says. “I’ve been impressed with the adults that have taken part of it. It’s a tremendous program. I certainly hope they’ll come back and be a blessing to the community.”

Want to help other adults learn how to swim? You can become a certified ALTS instructor or donate to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, which gives grants to adult-swim-lesson providers. You can also learn more about how ALTS has impacted adults across the country.

Want to learn how to swim? Find an ALTS instructor in your area.

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About the Author—Daniel Paulling

Daniel Paulling works as the managing editor of SWIMMER magazine and manages content development and production for the STREAMLINES eNewsletter series and articles published on usms.org. He swam for four years at Rollins College and covered Southeastern Conference athletics, Major League Baseball, and the NFL for a number of newspapers and websites across the country, including the Kansas City Star, MLB.com, and USA Today, before joining USMS in March 2017.

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