Swim Hero Smashes COVID-19 Barriers
YMCA Aquatics Executive Director for the YMCA of Greater New Orleans Rachael Jonas received the 2021 “Make a Splash” National Swim Hero Award.
Phillips 66, in conjunction with the USA Swimming Foundation recognized three heroes from around the US. Jonas brought the honor to New Orleans. She was recognized along with Adam Bueling of Chicago and Shawn Slevin of New York. Jonas was honored for her work building the YMCA of Greater New Orleans H2Geaux Safety Around Water program - offering water safety education to all members of the community despite economic hardship, special education needs, inaccessibility to pools, or other challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We live in a region surrounded by water. According to the Louisiana Department of Health’s Report 2015-2017, Louisiana had the highest rate of drowning in the US for children ages 1 to 14. Drowning was the second leading cause of injury-related death for children in Louisiana. And near drownings can result in cerebral injuries, pulmonary damage, and life-threatening cardiac arrest. Minority and low-income children are often the most at risk.
Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to halt water safety and swim lesson programs across the country. Confronted with this challenge, Rachael Jonas and her aquatics team introduced a creative new approach to continue delivering vital aquatics classes. Rather than providing lessons at a single pool location, they arranged to host them at eleven pools across the region. Through YMCA partnerships with - Plaquemines Parish Government, Phillips 66, Jefferson Parish Government, The Jefferson Community Foundation, Waste Connections, New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, Nike Community Impact Fund, The Fore! Kids Foundation, the Louise H. Moffett Family Foundation, YMCA of the USA, USA Swimming Foundation, and lead challenge grants from local philanthropists George & Nell Wilson - Jonas led her aquatics team in serving 1,700 children in a COVID restricted 2020 year and 3,300 children in 2019.
In her 17-year aquatics career, Jonas has mentored over 100 aquatics professionals and has provided over 20,000 children and adults with vital life lessons in safety around water, swim lessons, lifeguarding, swim instructor training, CPR, and First Aid. In 2017 she introduced the YMCA H2Geaux Safety Around Water program that allows for local students to take swimming instruction as part of their physical education requirement.
“Water safety means to me that every child, no matter their background or history with water, deserves to learn how to swim, “ Jonas said. “Just like every kid that learns how to ride a bike or write their ABCs, they deserve to learn how to swim.“ The YMCA offers aquatics lessons for the entire family including parents of swim students.
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