United Way is quiet, community contributor | Guest Column

By Jennifer Armstrong

Director, San Juan Island Family Resource Center

This past spring and summer, 12 kids from the San Juan Island Family Resource Center’s mentoring program learned to swim. On one hand, that’s not so unusual – most of us probably remember our own summertime swimming lessons, or have watched our kids’ first forays into the water. On the other hand, there’s something special about that achievement that’s worth taking a closer look.

That’s because this particular experience so perfectly exemplifies the quiet yet powerful way that United Way of San Juan County is working to change our community for the better. Each year, the United Way generously funds a wide array of the SJI Family Resource Center’s youth and adult programs. The mentoring program pairs local children ages 8 – 13 with specially trained adult volunteers who spend quality time with them each week, helping them develop new interests while building confidence and positive social skills. Funding from United Way of San Juan County ensures that the mentoring program has an experienced, competent coordinator, space to house the program, thorough training and safety protocols for volunteers, liability insurance, and program supplies. Those critical components are what enable the mentoring program to operate in a stable, consistent way from year to year, and achieve great outcomes for the kids who participate.

And having stable programs with proven positive outcomes makes it much easier to create additional community partnerships that optimize everyone’s efforts. The San Juan Island Prevention Coalition generously stepped forward this year to help fund swimming lessons for kids in the mentoring program. Paul Hopkins and San Juan Island Fitness donated use of their pool. And Amy Wynn, Susan Williamson and high school student Tenley Nelson supervised lessons, kept kids safe and cheered them on as they took their first strokes in the water.

Just a few months into the process, all of the mentoring program swimming students have knowledge of water safety and basic swimming skills. Some are becoming so competent that they are now swimming on their own at the fitness center and looking forward to taking more advanced classes. All of this might not seem like a big deal…..until you read some statistics. According to studies by the University of Nevada and the University of Memphis, 79 percent of kids from low-income families are at risk for drowning. The same study found that of nearly 87 percent of those surveyed with little to no swimming ability planned to visit a swimming facility at least once this summer. Those are huge risks, with potentially tragic outcomes. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we know that 12 children won’t be part of those statistics. They’ll enjoy swimming and water safety. And chances are overwhelming that someday when they’re parents, they will pass those skills and knowledge on to their own children. That’s what United Way does – they create quiet, yet profound and long-lasting change in every corner of our community. Be sure to support them in whatever capacity you can!