While some industry professionals talk about partnering with school systems to promote swim lessons among minorities,

Kim Burgess has done it. As director of Swim Central, an intense program of the Broward County (Fla.) Parks and Recreation Department, she developed a water safety program that is now an unspoken part of the school board’s curriculum.

With a budget of $1.3 million, Burgess provides safety lessons and swim scholarships for thousands of students, 72 percent of whom are black or other minorities.

“This program works because we have the county commissioner, the school board, even a U.S. representative involved,” Burgess says. “Without the county support, it wouldn’t work.”

Swim Central, which began in 1997, also promotes a resource and referral hotline that provides information on all swim programs and facilities in Broward County. In addition, Swim Central received a grant to build 16 pools at a time when many municipalities are shutting down facilities.

Burgess isn’t stopping there either. She’s expanding her program to target adults, day-care centers and developmentally disabled children. “Down here, statistics are everything,” she says. “Drowning is the leading cause of death for kids 5 and under. It’s up to us to reduce that number.”


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