A Hernando County mother has turned an unimaginable, 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 and many families enjoy beach trips, pool parties and other tropical celebrations, water safety is a top priority for all parents and guardians.
Tragically, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of four, and the state of Florida leads the state in the number of deaths from drowning in children ages one through four. This summer, the Hernando Family YMCA is offering a life-saving survival swim program for infants and young children called FLOAT. This program ensures that even the youngest children have the opportunity to learn to swim and navigate the waters healthily and safely while swimming. Thanks to a grant from Ashley Young of Spring Hill (who covered the cost of training the instructor for this YMCA “FLOAT” program), these courses teach intensive one-on-one survival swimming skills at the beginning of each month. The program is led by an International Swimming Academy-certified YMCA swimming instructor and classes are in ten-minute increments. Although there is a cost to the program, thanks to Young’s generosity, scholarships and financial assistance are available to children who need them. “FLOAT” is a nationwide program debuting in this branch of the YMCA.
This program is significant for local mom Ashley Young. “Her 10-month-old twins fell in a swimming pool in 2020 and one didn’t survive,” said Amber Slusser, branch manager of the Suncoast-Hernando County YMCA. “She hadn’t been able to find intensive one-on-one swimming lessons for kids that age and decided this program had to exist.”
In fact, Young believes the death of son Burke is the single most important motivating factor behind her support of the FLOAT program. “That’s his legacy,” Young said. “I don’t want another mother to have to go through that.”
Ashley Young’s story is far too ordinary. The chronicle of a family enjoying a quiet morning at home as their beloved twins slip through a sliding door into the family pool. Burke’s life was lost in less than two minutes. “If he had learned to float and roll in the pool, Burke would have been fine,” Young said.
When she tried to find survival swimming lessons for her surviving twin, she found none were available. “There wasn’t anything in Hernando, Pasco, Citrus, or even Tampa,” she revealed. “Nothing for my son Cash.” It was then that she discovered information about “FLOAT,” a program started by an out-of-state mother who had also lost a child to drowning.
In the Spring Hill YMCA’s “FLOAT” program, International Swimming Academy (ISA) certified instructor Danielle Gennusa works with children and toddlers to help them learn a healthy fear of water, getting their face wet and water boundaries to learn. Children go underwater up to 5 times during their first grade, with this frequency increasing as their swimming skills improve and in-water comfort increases. Plus, kids learn to roll onto 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, taking a kid to swim lessons is like taking them to school,” she said. “We have to teach them how to take care of themselves in the water and stay safe. And without that scholarship, we wouldn’t be able to offer this program.” These lessons are especially important for a child like Hailey, who naturally enters the water. “She’s a water baby,” says Gennusa with a proud smile. “Sometimes I have a hard time getting them out of the water. I envision a future for her on her school swim team.”
Hailey actually smiled and laughed as her mom guided her through her morning swim lesson on August 2, supporting her as she wet her face, dodged briefly under water, moved her arms and legs in a caressing, floating motion, and learned more about it how to get in and out of the water. Coach Mom offered positive affirmations in the form of claps and words of praise, including, “Well done!” Gennusa said, “Even kids that young hit it off in the water.”
In addition to the courses, Gennusa also offers practical tips on keeping children safe in the water. “Keep your swimming pools and children’s pools fenced and screened,” she advises. “Don’t even let children near children’s pools unsupervised. Install an alarm system that notifies you if a bathroom door is opened, as children can fall into bathtubs and toilets.”
“FLOAT” marks the expansion of the Hernando County YMCA’s water safety efforts 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 ponds to rivers, water is everywhere, making water security a critical part of the Y’s youth development efforts,” said an associated press release. “The Y are committed to doing whatever is necessary to ensure no other 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 courses at YMCA, visit 1300 Mariner Blvd or call (352) 688-9622. Ashley Young believes this program is vital for children around the world. “Parents need to make sure every child has access to swimming lessons from an early age,” she said. “We want to make sure ‘FLOAT’ is available to all families, here and now.”