SSLF Grant Recipient Twin Cities Aquatics Cooperative Brings Inclusive Approach to Teaching Adults to Swim
The TCC Masters group offers swimming opportunities to adults
In 2018, Alayane Beneke co-founded the Twin Cities Aquatics Cooperative in Minneapolis. It wasn’t your average Masters group.
Whereas many Masters clubs meet several times a week in the early hours of the morning to pound out laps, the focus here is on helping increase access to aquatic fitness for everyone.
Up until the coronavirus pandemic stalled programs and closed pools around the country, practices were held once a week on Sundays at the Phillips Community Center in Minneapolis. Beneke says the club’s hoping to get back to a more regular schedule soon as restrictions relax and pools begin reopening.
The TCC Masters group is about as inclusive as it can be, offering swimming opportunities to adults aged 18 and older. No swimming ability is required to join.
“We’re kind of intentionally open to different people joining and different people running parts of our practices,” Beneke says.
The group relies on skill sharing. Swimmers are encouraged to share their skills and knowledge with others, and anyone interested in coaching is invited to do so. This helps reinforce inclusiveness and builds community.
The club doesn’t have any registration fees. Donations are encouraged, and participants can determine what seems fair or affordable for them. Swimmers can simply turn up for the sessions they can attend.
Beneke says the aim in establishing the program was to address access issues and the fear that many people experience when it comes to water-based activities. The pool is located in a “poor, diverse, and low-income area,” so reaching out to the people in the surrounding community is a top aim.
Protests that started in Minneapolis and have rippled across the country and around the world after the death of George Floyd have underscored one aspect of the many disparities that exist in our modern society across racial lines. Another is access to water, which has long been extremely limited to people and communities of color.
This disparity means that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children aged 5 to 19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than those of whites. And, among those age 11 to 12 years, blacks drown in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of whites.
Beneke says the protests themselves have not directly impacted the group’s programming, “however, there are definitely many racial inequities that exist in our community and these do impact access to swimming. Such inequities are one of the many reasons we run programming and work to make it accessible to all people across races and socio-economic statuses.”
This desire to reach others with the power of swimming is important to Beneke, who became involved in sports and swimming because “there are a lot of barriers to people accessing swimming opportunities. We want to take down as many barriers as possible. Everyone is welcome to plug into the resources that we provide.”
Beneke grew up competing in synchronized swimming and has worked in aquatics for several different organizations over the past decade or so. She says she was inspired to co-found the co-op group because “I never quite got what I wanted in the sense I’d never been able to run a program that was as open as the one I created. Seeing those barriers to participation in other places I’d been, I felt I had to create my own approach.”
Therefore, there are no strict membership requirements, and there’s no hard number of members—folks turn up to swim when they want and that works for this group.
That inclusive attitude extends well beyond competitive and fitness swimmers with TCC’s newly established Adult Learn-to-Swim program. “We want to take anyone 18 and over who’s interested in learning to swim,” Beneke says.
With its new ALTS group, TCC is working to develop a more set structure to ensure that enough instructors are available to teach when learners are able to take advantage of lessons. To help with creating that structure, Beneke applied for and received a grant from the USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation for 2020.
In addition to helping bring more instructors in, the grant will also help the program reach new would-be swimmers. So far, word of mouth has been the group’s best means of recruiting new participants. But, Beneke says, they’ve also done “some community outreach through flyering” to get the message to those who might need lessons. “That outreach is targeted towards people who don’t have as much access and are low income,” she says.
The response has been strong, and the program is connecting with people who might otherwise never have had a chance to learn to swim.
Providing swimming lessons to low-income folks who are not water safe isn’t just a means of boosting public safety. It’s also has “a social component to it,” Beneke says. “I really want to create a system that’s really welcoming to people and can help them make social connections with other people. That network of people who have skills they can share and can learn from.”
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