Hundreds of school-aged children in the Mission district are set to receive free swimming lessons as a result of an $11,500 donation to the Recreation and Park Department.
The children, mostly third- and fourth-graders, will get a chance to learn their strokes at Garfield Pool, a public swimming site that is near four public elementary schools. Helen Hilton Raiser, a local philanthropist, offered to donate the money for the program as a way to improve swimming safety among San Francisco’s youth, said Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg.
While Rec and Park offers scholarships for swimming lessons — no one is turned away due to lack of funds — this is the first time the department will embark on a program that actively reaches out to local residents.
“A lot of the times, parents will come to us,” said Ginsburg. “But this time, we’ll be reaching out to the parents, to the local schools and the after-school programs to offer up our programs.”
Ginsburg said the swimming lessons will pay for 10 half-hour sessions for each child at the Garfield Pool. The youth participants will be selected from four local elementary schools: George Moscone, Cesar Chavez, Leonard Flynn and Bryant.
The decision to offer the lessons at Garfield was based on the opportunity to reach out to underprivileged and minority children in the Mission district, Ginsburg said.
“African-American and Hispanic students have a youth drowning rate that is two to three times higher than the rest of their peers,” said Ginsburg. “We want our kids to feel safe around the water.”
Ginsburg said Raiser’s donation could be the first stage in an ongoing philanthropic program to help provide youth with free swimming lessons. Rec and Park is also actively pushing a $195 million bond measure slated for November’s ballot that would completely renovate the Garfield, Balboa and Rossi swimming pools, among other projects.
With its eight pools, San Francisco has just one public swimming site for every 100,000 residents, a rate that pales in comparison to other local cities. Ginsburg said that the three pools on the bond measure could accommodate many more swimmers if renovations are made.
Three other pools that were recently renovated have seen increases in visitors since they were reopened. Hamilton pool, which was fixed in 2010, logged 65,768 swimmers last year, a 130 percent increase compared to the annual rate before the renovation project.
Raiser’s grant was accepted at the Recreation and Park Department’s operations committee Thursday. It will go up for final approval at the full commission meeting later this month.