Local foundation expands water safety programs

Karen Cohn, photographed here last April at the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club, has been a tireless advocate for the ZAC Foundation in honor of her late son. Now her water safety camps are going national.

Karen Cohn, photographed here last April at the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club, has been a tireless advocate for the ZAC Foundation in honor of her late son. Now her water safety camps are going national.

The ZAC Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) recently announced a national water safety education partnership that will bring the foundation’s award-winning water safety programs — ZAC Camps — to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country.

Founded by Greenwich residents Karen and Brian Cohn, who tragically lost their six-year-old son Zachary in a pool drain entrapment in 2007, the ZAC Foundation is a water safety advocacy and education organization dedicated to preparing children and their families for lifelong water safety. Its camps were first held at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich and have become an annual offering there, teaching participants water safety tips such as the “ABCs and Ds” of water safety, which include adult supervision, barriers, classes, and drain safety.

Now entering its first national collaboration with BGCA, the ZAC Foundation has the potential of reaching more than 1,000 young people, many of whom are minorities and most at risk of drowning, as 10 BGCA locations across the country, including Greenwich, will adopt ZAC Camps in 2013. The swim camps, targeting five to nine-year-olds, will be held beginning this month, expanding to 25 camps in 2014.

The courses are designed to teach children water safety through classroom curriculum and in-pool swim lessons. However, unlike many other existing swim safety initiatives, ZAC Camps involve engagement with local first responders. By the weeklong camp’s end, participants are equipped with critical tools to ensure safe swimming, including basic stroke training, emergency preparedness and response, and fundamental lifesaving techniques.

In an interview with the Post, Ms. Cohn said the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich provided the ZAC Foundation with an opportunity to get their camps off the ground, which has ultimately resulted in the organization’s multi-year national partnership with BGCA. The Greenwich facility’s support has been essential to the camps’ success, she said. And with a goal of educating as many children and families across the country as possible, she added, the ZAC Foundation’s new partnership is an important opportunity because of the BGCA’s “commitment to our country’s youth.”

Water safety education is paramount at institutions such as the BGCA, said Bob DeAngelo, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. What makes ZAC Camps unique is that the sessions are “much more than a swim lesson,” as they also teach dry land education and engage the community with first responders who speak at the camps about rescue techniques.

“It’s a good moment of pride to know these camps will be expanded and there will be more U.S. kids that get to become safer and more aware of water safety” through the foundation’s national partnership with BGCA, Mr. DeAngelo said.

Additionally, he said, the camps will have a major impact on communities by eliminating families’ fear of water. According to Mr. DeAngelo, many children are fearful of water because their parents never learned to swim and have passed down that fear. ZAC Camps will not only help to alleviate that apprehension but will help to break the cycle of families passing their fears on to future generations, he said.

Beginning March 25, ZAC Camps will be launched at the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay, Wis., and from there will become available at Boys & Girls Clubs in Mobile, Ala., Fort Riley, Kan., Ontario, Ore., San Antonio, Texas, Chicago, Ill., Naples, Fla., Pasadena, Calif., and Billerica, Mass., in addition to Greenwich.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death in children ages one to four, and the second leading cause in children ages five to 14. Risk of drowning is highest in minority populations, with the fatal drowning rate almost three times that of Caucasian children. Many of these deaths are preventable if proper water safety measures are taken, according to the ZAC Foundation, and ZAC Camps aim to reduce those statistics through community engagement and their collaboration with the BGCA.

Adding to the foundation’s educational repertoire will be a book entitled The Polar Bear Who Couldn’t, Wouldn’t Swim, written by Mr. and Ms. Cohn, which is expected to be unveiled next month, Ms. Cohn said. The book will focus on the fundamentals of water safety, she said.

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