Community Schools Students Swim Toward Success at the West Communities YMCA

August 01, 2017


The West Communities YMCA helps children from low-income families living in the Southwest side of Chicago receive free instruction through the Y's Community Schools Initiative (Y-CSI)."

The West Communities YMCA is proud to be the place that Chicago Lawn families entrust to teach their children to swim and be safe around water. In fall of 2017, 100 children from low-income families living in the Southwest side of Chicago received free instruction through the Y’s Community Schools Initiative (Y-CSI). The Y-CSI program partners with Chicago Public Schools and local community organizations to deliver high-quality academic enrichment activities and services to students in grades K-8 and their families.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is the second leading cause of death by unintentional injury for children ages 1 to 14.


The Y is committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable youth in our communities are able to learn critical water safety skills, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Made possible in part with a grant from YMCA of the USA, each Y-CSI participant at the West Communities Y benefited from one swim lesson per week over eight weeks; classes consisted of 45 minutes of instruction followed by 15 minutes of play time. They learned to swim at their own pace, developed essential water safety and drowning prevention skills such as how to safely exit a body of water, and practiced teamwork and goal-setting as they made new friends.


In 2017, West Communities YMCA provided almost 400 individuals with 778 series of swim lessons, empowering participants with the skills they need to be safe both in and around aquatic environments.


At the beginning of the program, almost all of the Y-CSI youth were unable to swim and many were visibly afraid to even enter the water. After eight weeks of lessons facilitated by knowledgeable and caring instructors, all participants demonstrated increases in water safety knowledge and improvements in their swimming abilities.

"This has been an incredible opportunity for our students because swimming is such a critical life skill," says Eric Werge, Y-CSI Executive Director.

By the end of the program, more than half of participants could swim to some extent, according to West Communities Y Aquatics Director, Amanda Alvarez. As most of these children had never before had the opportunity to participate in formal swim lessons, this progress is no small feat.

Says Alvarez, “no words can describe the look on the kids' faces and the proud parents watching their children grow in not only the skill to swim but the self-worth and confidence that come along with that.”