By Shelly Najjar
On sunny days like those that we have been enjoying lately, my mother used to take my brother and me to Evans Pool to enjoy an hour of swimming before going to the Green Lake Library. It was also the same pool where we took swimming lessons with an instructor who taught us to not be afraid of getting our faces wet, and ultimately, to love swimming.
Today I am very grateful to my parents for paying for swimming lessons (multiple times and with many instructors, because it took longer than expected to get over that fear of getting my face wet). I realize that swimming lessons can be cost prohibitive for some, and I was excited to learn about the financial support available to those who qualify, so that every child has the chance to learn to swim.
Evans Pool (7201 E Green Lake Dr N) is “one of eight indoor pools operated by Seattle Parks and Recreation,” according to the Seattle Parks and Recreation website. All eight participate in reduced-fee and scholarship programs, says Diane Jones, Aquatic Center Coordinator at Southwest Pool.
While swimming lessons cost $6.50 to $12 per lesson, depending on the age group, Aquatics Manager Kathy Whitman says that the reduced-fee program covers half the cost for eligible applicants.
When there is scholarship money available, applicants may receive even more. “There are so many families that would qualify for eighty or ninety percent [total fee reduction],” she says.
However, as both Diane and Kathy admit, the scholarship money can run out.
“We have already used up all the [scholarship] money for this year,” Diane says.
Kathy reports that they received $19,000 for scholarships this year, and “all of that has been used.”
The money is usually donated from companies and partners. When asked when she thinks they will have more scholarship funds, Diane replied, “I really don’t know.”
Unlike the scholarship money, however, Diane says that the reduced-fee program is available to “anyone who qualifies” and the program does not run out of money.
Donna Sammons, Aquatic Center Coordinator at Evans Pool, says “To apply [for the reduced-fee program], a person can go to any community center or pool and ask for a scholarship application. […] This year’s forms are breezy blue. Applicants should read the form and fill out the form completely and indicate their preferred site and/or program.”
When submitting the form to the site of their choice, applicants are required to also provide copies of their latest 1040 Income Tax Form (with the Social Security number blacked out).
At Evans Pool, Donna uses Income Guidelines from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Scholarship Office. The reduction she approves is then subject to final approval by the Scholarship Office, which reviews the situation and then notifies the pool of the final decision.
Donna reminds applicants that “All fee reductions should be applied for before enrollment in a class. We cannot go in and retroactively apply the fee reduction.” However, she says, “The fee reduction may be applied to the next class enrollment.”
The process for scholarships beyond the 50% fee reduction would be the same, if there was money to give out.
“We would welcome any donation,” says Kathy. “We really have a critical need right now for children to get swimming lessons.”
She notes that Seattle is a city surrounded by water, and swimming skills can expand recreational opportunities in the Northwest. These opportunities include boating, rafting and other “outdoor adventures” which may be dangerous without swimming ability.
According to an informational handout [PDF], Seattle Children’s Hospital is partnering with many community organizations to “increase access to swimming and water recreation among culturally diverse and low income families in Seattle and King County, Washington” through their Everyone Swims! Initiative.
Sarah Stempski, Program Coordinator at Seattle Children’s, says “The biggest thing to remember is that we are working on system and policy change, not a program. For example, Everyone Swims! does not have a scholarship program; we work with our partners to make their scholarship process the best that it can be.”
Unfortunately, the Seattle Parks and Recreation scholarship fund is depleted.
“How do we teach this life skill? How do we keep children safe? How do we provide fun opportunities?” Kathy asks.
It is important to know the answer to these questions.
“Drowning is the second leading cause of death nationwide,” Kathy says. “And teens in various ethnic groups, […] in this area Vietnamese teens, are at the highest risk.”
She estimates that only half of the qualified families received scholarships this year, due to low funds. In order for all the families to receive scholarships, she says there would need to be a scholarship fund of $40,000 per year, twice as much funding as they currently receive.
Jody B., PPT cashier, says “I know it [the financial assistance] helps a lot of families. […] The price makes it affordable.” According to Jody, many of the families previously did not know about the scholarship and fee-reduction programs, and “leave with a sense of hope in their smile and step.”
She says, “It’s a good feeling to know one has helped.”
Donations are accepted from individuals and companies. If you are interested in donating to the Seattle Parks and Recreation scholarship fund, please contact Kathy Whitman at kathy.whitman [at] seattle.gov or (206) 684-7099.