One Hernando County mother has turned an unthinkable, tragic loss into a quest to protect young children across the county from an all too common danger. As we all enjoy a beautiful summer here in Hernando County with many families enjoying trips to the beach, pool parties, and other tropical festivities, water safety is at the forefront of every parent’s and guardian’s mind.
Tragically, drowning is the leading cause of accidental deaths of children under the age of four and the state of Florida leads the nation in the number of drowning deaths of children aged one through four. This summer, the Hernando Family YMCA is offering a life-saving survival swim program for infants and toddlers called “FLOAT.” This program ensures that even the youngest children have the chance to learn to swim and navigate the waters of health and safety as they swim. Thanks to a grant from Spring Hill resident Ashley Young (who covered the cost of training for this YMCA “FLOAT” program’s instructor), these classes will teach intensive one-on-one survival swimming skills at the beginning of each month. The program is directed by an International Swimming Academy certified YMCA swim instructor and classes will be in ten-minute increments. Although the program does carry a cost, thanks to Young’s generosity, scholarships and financial aid are available to children who need it. “FLOAT” is a nation-wide program that is debuting at this branch of the YMCA.
This program holds great importance for local-mother Ashley Young. “Her 10-month-old twin boys fell into a swimming pool in 2020 and one didn’t survive,” explained Amber Slusser, branch executive director of the YMCA of the Suncoast-Hernando County. “She hadn’t been able to find one-on-one intensive swimming lessons for kids that age and decided that this program needed to be in place.”
Indeed, in Young’s eyes, the death of son Burke is the prime motivating factor in her support of the “FLOAT” program. “This is his legacy,” said Young. “I don’t want another mother to have to go through this.”
Ashley Young’s story is far too common. The chronicle of a family enjoying a quiet morning at home, when their precious twin boys slipped out a sliding door and into the family swimming pool. Burke’s life was lost in under two minutes. “If he had learned to float and roll in the swimming pool, Burke would have been fine,” said Young.
When she tried to find survival swim classes for her surviving twin, she found that none were available. “There was nothing in Hernando, Pasco, Citrus, or even in Tampa,” she revealed. “Nothing for my son Cash.” That was when she discovered information about “FLOAT,” a program started by an out-of-state mother who’d also lost a child to drowning.
In the “FLOAT” program at the Spring Hill YMCA, International Swimming Academy (ISA) certified instructor Danielle Gennusa works with children and toddlers to help them learn a healthy fear of the water, get their face wet, and learn water limits. Children will go underwater up to 5 times during their first class, with this frequency increasing as their floating abilities improve and water comfort levels increase. Additionally, children will learn to roll on their backs, breathe, and float to the side of the pool.
One of Gennusa’s first three students in this program is her sixteen-month-old daughter Hailey. “To me, bringing a child to swimming lessons is like bringing them to school,” she said. “We have to teach them how to take care of themselves in the water and stay safe. And without this grant, we wouldn’t be able to offer this program.” These lessons are particularly important for a child like Hailey, who naturally takes to the water. “She’s a water baby,” says Gennusa with a proud smile. “It’s sometimes hard for me to get her out of the water. I envision a future for her on her school swim team.”
Hailey did indeed smile and laugh as her mother guided her through her morning swimming lesson on August 2, supporting her as she got her face wet, dipped briefly underwater, moved her arms and legs in a stroking, floating motion, and learned more about how to get in and out of the water. Coach Mom offered positive affirmations in the form of clapping and words of praise that included “Good job!” Gennusa stated “Even kids this young catch on quickly in the water.”
Aside from the classes, Gennusa also offers practical tips regarding child water safety. “Keep your swimming pools and kiddie pools fenced and screened in,” she advises. “Don’t allow kids near even kiddie pools without supervision. Install an alarm system that will tell you whenever a door is opened to the bathroom, as kids can fall into bathtubs and toilets.”
“FLOAT” marks the expansion of the Hernando County YMCA’s water safety efforts that are focused on saving the lives of our youngest community members. “In 2021, there were 24 child drowning deaths in the Tampa Bay area. From lakes to pools and rivers, there is water everywhere, making water safety a crucial component of the Y’s youth development efforts,” read a related news release. “The Y is committed to doing what it takes to ensure not one more child drowns in Tampa Bay. Last year the YMCA of the Suncoast taught 5,787 children life-saving water safety skills.”
To learn more about “FLOAT” classes at YMCA, visit 1300 Mariner Blvd, or call (352) 688-9622. This program, in the eyes of Ashley Young, is of vital importance to children everywhere. “Parents need to make sure that every child has access to swim lessons, from a very young age,” she said. “We want to be sure that ‘FLOAT’ is available for all families here and now.”