Children having fun inside of the Fred Hampton Pool. | File
Wednesday, March 1, 2017 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
It’s never too late to learn.
Last year, at 74 years old, former mayor and sitting trustee Henderson Yarbrough learned how to swim after taking advantage of the West Cook YMCA’s offer to provide lessons inside of the Fred Hampton Aquatic Center, located at 300 Fred Hampton Way and which the YMCA has operated since 2011.
In 2012, the pool closed for repairs before reopening in 2013. In 2014, the YMCA entered into a joint revenue-sharing agreement with the village, with each entity contributing to roughly half of the costs of operating and maintaining the pool.
“When I was growing up in the South, almost all of my friends could swim except for me,” Yarbrough recalled during an interview on Wednesday.
“I was the fastest runner in the group,” he said. “We learned how to swim by people just taking us and throwing us into the lake. There were no swimming pools. We just had ponds and lakes. I never got tossed into the lake, so I never learned.”
Yarbrough was among 248 people, both swimmers and non-swimmers, who participated in the West Cook YMCA’s four-week lessons that met twice a week last year in July and August. They practiced floating, putting their faces in the water, safety protocols, kicking and other skills.
“When the YMCA approached the village with the opportunity, I figured, ‘Hey, why not?’ It wasn’t hard at all,” Yarbrough said of the lessons. “It’s the fear. Once you get over the fear, the rest is just a matter of executing.”
For Kim Polk, the West Cook YMCA’s aquatics director and Yarbrough’s instructor, a summer swimming lesson could mean survival for some people.
According to West Cook YMCA officials, on average, two children each day drown accidentally in the United States. Seventy percent of African-Americans, and 60 percent of Latinos, have little or no swimming ability.
“We’re trying to teach a life skill,” she said during a Wednesday Legal, License and Ordinance Committee meeting in Maywood, where she and West Cook YMCA [CEO Phil Jimenez] approached the Maywood Board of Trustees with a partnership agreement for the upcoming 2017 season.
“We’re focusing on safety in and out of the water, so not only are you learning a life skill, you’re learning how to be safe and how to save someone if there’s an incident,” she said.
Polk added that 76 percent of the 248 participants were between the ages of 3 and 11 years old. By the time the lessons ended, virtually all of them learned to swim or strengthened the swimming abilities they already had.
In a memo, West Cook YMCA officials said that all of the Maywood trustees “took advantage of the lessons” and were able to swim “from one end of the pool to another in the deep diving well” by the time the lessons were over.
Overall, said Jimenez, last year’s season was the most successful since the YMCA and Maywood began jointly operating the pool in 2014. That year, the Fred Hampton pool served 1,300 people.
“Last year, we served [over 9,400] individuals,” Jimenez said. “In two years, our partnership has significantly profited in terms of the goodwill that we’re building in the village community and just in memories. We believe that if positive memories are being built on a consistent basis, the likelihood of a person growing up and having positive development is much greater.”
In 2015, according to the memo, the pool served 4,700 guests. That year, the YMCA sold 10 passes. In 2016, the organization sold 54 passes.
Jimenez attributed the over 600 percent increase in pool attendance over two years to an aggressive marketing push his organization implemented in the months leading up to last season.
That awareness initiative included direct mailing more than 3,000 residents in Maywood and Melrose Park, conducting personal phone calls to targeted households in those communities and instilling informational banners throughout the area, among other actions.
The West Cook YMCA also partnered with numerous community organizations and businesses, such as Maywood Fine Arts and Margery Daw Daycare.
Jimenez said that the spike in attendance was also due to good weather. The pool was closed for only 11 out 84 operating days — or just 13 percent of the season, compared to a 25 percent close rate in 2015.
This year, West Cook is recommending the village increase its spending on the pool from $48,000 last year to $60,000 this year in order to pay for additional staffers to handle the increase in pool users. Last year, the pool was over budget by $21,000 because of the surge in attendance.
Jimenez said that his organization is also in talks with Proviso East High School to develop a partnership that could result in up to 30 local hires for the upcoming season, which will run from June 12 until Sept. 4.
“We are literally a signature away from partnering with them to certify lifeguards out of Proviso East,” he said, adding that 33 students at the high school have expressed interest in the jobs.
The students would have to meet a number of prerequisites before getting hired, Jimenez said, but once they pass the test, they will get top priority in the application process.
“We have the potential to hire between 10 and 30 lifeguards,” Jimenez said, before qualifying that 30 is “a high number.” This year, as with last year, the pool staff will offer complimentary swimming lessons.
The village board voted unanimously to send the agreement to the next regular board meeting to be voted on. VFP
For more info about the Fred Hampton Aquatics Center, including prices and hours of operation, click here.