Warm temperatures continue to climb in Rochester, and along with them, the desire to put on a swimsuit and take a dip at the pool.
The uplift of COVID-19 restrictions and free admission to Rochester pools has Rochester Swimming Club CEO Autumn Kappe preparing for an even larger influx of guests, but there was one issue she wanted to address before the swimming season was underway.
“One of the things we found in the last few years at the pools is we’re always turning kids away that come to the pool for a variety of reasons,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s, like religious reasons, or monetary reasons or ethnic reasons, but they don’t have swimming suits. And so we have to tell them 'No, you can’t swim in that, it’s dangerous.' ”
In past years, RSC advised kids to purchase a swimsuit, but Kappe said the kids they initially turned away wouldn’t come back. She doesn’t envision that being an issue this year.
The “Let Them Swim” group, composed of RSC, Rochester Swimming Inc. and several community members who fought to keep Silver Lake Pool open, has now raised over $7,000 between GoFundMe and in-person donations to field swimsuits for those who don’t have appropriate swimwear. The group will also be able to fund some swimming lessons for children.
“It's just the greatest feeling ever,” Kappe said. “I mean, to have two outdoor pools, but yet these kids don't know how to swim is incredible to me, so the fact that we can utilize that and stop the barriers that are preventing them from having these lessons is phenomenal, and we're so grateful for everything that everybody's doing to keep these pools open, and to get all the kids there.”
The idea for the fundraiser came this past winter when the group was fighting to keep Silver Lake Pool open. They also wanted to address some of the “underserved” kids who couldn’t sign up for swimming lessons because they couldn’t afford it.
“We thought, ‘Now, if we get Silver Lake open, how do we get every kid in Rochester to have the ability to learn how to swim?’ And that’s how this started,” Kappe said.
Kappe said the free swimming lessons are through the Let Them Swim program and not RSC, as the club’s swimming lessons are already booked through the summer. The lessons will also be offered for local groups, such as the Boys & Girls Club and Jeremiah Program. She said 45 kids from the Boys & Girls Club are already signed up.
Kappe said a social media post gave the misconception that RSC was giving out the free swimming lessons, which led to the group having 114 kids signed up.
While the group has plenty of lifeguards, master swimmers and Mayo Clinic doctors willing to volunteer to administer the basic lessons and safe swimming practices at Silver Lake and Soldiers Field Pool, Kappe said figuring out the logistics of the program still proves a daunting task due to the number of kids currently signed up.
“It filled up faster than we could handle,” she said. “We just need to come up with a different curriculum, since it can't be the same curriculum we have through USA Swimming, and we have to gather all these people and find out the ages and who all can teach them … so we’re still trying to figure out how to do all this with all these kids that have signed up because I didn’t want to turn anyone away.”
Nevertheless, Kappe is hopeful the Let Them Swim program can become a staple for Rochester recreation for years to come.
“I think there’s going to be a bigger need for it than ever before,” she said.
Those interested in signing up for the lessons can click this link.