This Year’s ‘Fill the Fin’ Fundraiser May Not Feed the Most Need

It’s a post like this that might encourage me to change the name of my blog. But more on that later.

I woke up Saturday morning to this story come across on my phone: There’s a Fin Heading Toward People on the Beach.

It piqued my interest. So I clicked through. I began reading the story that talked about a unique fundraising effort by San Diego beach lifeguards who are volunteering this week to raise money for swimming lessons for inner-city youth.

Clever, I thought. Kind of like what the Burn Institute does every year. At least they don’t have to walk a mile in their fins, like the YWCA asks the public to do.

But I kept reading. And discovered that the funds were going to a local YMCA to support learn to swim classes that are very similar to the ones offered by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department.

This year's Fill The Fin Fundraiser announced by San Diego Council President Tony Young, Councilmember Sherri Lightner and the San Diego Lifesaving Association is raising funds for a non-city organization. Photo credit: La Jolla Patch

I support funding swim lesson programs and encouraging all kids to learn how to swim, and this is a novel idea to raise funds so more children can learn a valuable life skill. And in full disclosure, I’m also a member of the YMCA and I do PR. Nothing says “great visual” like cute kids and the ocean on a beautiful summer day, and show the adult-size fins that the group hopes to fill with cash donations.

What many people don’t know is that I have personal experience working as a pool guard, swim instructor and swim coach at inner-city pools operated by the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department for nearly 8 years. I’ve told people that if I ever won the lottery there would be free swim lessons for all children. So this post really hits close to home for me and my personal experience. And I write this for someone who is not here to send emails and make phone calls because I think this may upset her too.

One of the best supervisors ever. She was my boss when I worked in Aquatics for the City of San Diego and was an advocate for providing swim instruction for minorities. She came to visit me after the girls were born. Little did I know this would be the last time I would see her.

During my tenure, I taught swim classes to non-English speaking children during the Learn to Swim for Free program at Memorial Park Pool. At other sites, I personally handed out free bathing suits to tween girls who showed up in a t-shirt and shorts to swim.

One of the most vivid memories I have was when I taught at the Portable Pools program. We set up the pool on the playground at Adams Avenue Elementary School in Normal Heights. A girl, probably age 10 or 11, brought handmade peanut butter sandwiches to the last-day-of-class-party. She made the sandwiches and put them back in the bread bag to carry them to class. She had told me they didn’t have any money to buy something to bring, so she and her dad made the sandwiches. This still gives me goosebumps more than 10 years later.

This summer my girlies took Parent and Tot swimming lessons from an instructor at the Clairemont Pool, who was in one of my swimming classes many moons ago and then joined my rec-level swim team with his sisters. It was awesome to see that he’s paying forward the love of aquatics to some of San Diego’s tiniest swimmers.

Working for the City of San Diego as a swim instructor was one of the best jobs that I ever had. There I said it.

Moving forward, I’d like to see the “Fill the Fin” funds need to support the City of San Diego’s aquatic programs coordinated through the Park and Recreation Department — they need our help. Out of the 13 public pools operated by the City of San Diego, there are TWO public pools within 2.5 miles of the YMCA mentioned in the article, and a portable pool program this summer as well. The Portable Pools are designed to bring swimming lessons and recreational swim opportunities to communities without local permanent pools. And there are Portable Pools that have been set up in the vicinity of this YMCA as well.

The pool schedule fliers, which are created by city employees in the Park and Recreation Department and list the hours of operation, pool schedules, etc., ask the public to donate time or money to their pools and recreation centers. “Your gift will help ensure that we meet the needs of people of all ages, abilities, and income levels in your community through recreation, natural open-space parks, neighborhood parks, and aquatics programs,” it says.

Let’s stop and think about this for a minute.

City of San Diego pool schedules like this one from Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool on Skyline Avenue ask for financial donations and for volunteers.

Our elected officials and city employees are asking us to donate to a non-city organization, when the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department is asking for financial and volunteer assistance. There are permanent pools and portable pools throughout San Diego this summer that offer swimming lessons for infants through adults. The price of city swim lessons at the city pools are HIGHER than at this YMCA. Yep. That’s right. The article states that the cost of a swimming lesson at this YMCA branch is $50. Whether you take them at Carmel Valley, Clairemont, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool on Skyline Drive it is $54 per person for a large group class if you are resident. For non-residents the price DOUBLES to $108 per person. The city of San Diego has been in a dire financial situation for years now. And to help cover their bills the pools (and other community services) have had to raise their fees and cut hours of operation.

I think “Fill the Fin” is a wonderful idea. I hope it is successful and that children will learn to swim and not become a statistic. Whenever I hear about an accidental drowning in the news, I think about how it could have been prevented and how much pain the parents must feel. However, I hope that Young, Lightner and the San Diego Lifesaving Association will consider giving proceeds from their fundraiser in 2012 to the city of San Diego’s public aquatics programs through the City of San Diego Friends of Parks and Recreation Foundation, instead of a non-city entity that provides youth swimming lessons. By doing so, the proceeds will help city provided programs, which are already in place and are successful, continue the legacy of creating safe swimmers, and encourage inner-city youth to pursue careers with the City of San Diego to protect our pools, bays, oceans and surrounding areas.

What can you do?

  • Write a note to Council President Tony Young and Councilmember Sherri Lightner. Let them know your thoughts on the issue.
  • Visit your neighborhood City of San Diego public swimming pool. Pay the entry fee and take a swim or play in the water structure. Sign up for lessons. Support them and learn some skills.
  • Make a donation to the City of San Diego Friends of Parks and Recreation Foundation. Be sure to tell them what you want your donation to be used for.
  • Volunteer your time at your local pool.
  • Make sure you know your pool rules and best practices for staying safe in and around the water, to minimize your chance of becoming a statistic.
What do you think of this fundraising effort? Leave your comment below.
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