It is National Drowning Prevention Week (July 15-21) and the OPP-led “Project Sunset” program for youth at Crossroads School is teaching kids the importance of water safety.
“Kids love water, so we need to help them make sure to stay safe around it," stressed Lincoln Dunn, "Project Sunset” senior youth engagement coordinator.
On July 5 and 6, there were two tragic drowning deaths in Kenora, one in White Dog, and another one in the Kaministiquia River in Thunder Bay.
“It was a very tragic couple of days in the Northwest Region when we had these deaths,” said OPP Community Safety Officer Yenta Davidson.
In light of these tragedies, Davidson and fellow OPP officer Anne McCoy would like to emphasize the importance of water safety and drowning prevention.
One of the most important skills to have when it comes to preventing drowning is learning to swim, explained Davidson.
“It's a life skill and there are local programs available in Fort Frances,” she stressed.
Another important factor when considering drowning prevention is wearing a life jacket in and around bodies of water, stressed Davidson.
Whenever anybody from “Project Sunset" is near the water, "life jackets are always on,” McCoy emphasized.
Davidson added that swimming with a buddy is another key precaution to take when out in the water.
“Just because you're a good swimmer doesn't always mean you'll be able to take care of yourself,” she warned.
Diving into shallow bodies of water is another threat to water safety, said Davidson.
Reduce risks by entering unknown waters feet first and refraining from horseplay in and around the water.
Drowning prevention and proper behaviour around the water is incorporated into “Project Sunset's” programming, noted Davidson.
And while the participant's always wear life jackets out by the water, Dunn explained that these kids also need to be ready when there aren't any flotation devices around.
From January to March, over 50 kids from Crossroads School's “Project Sunset" took the "Swim to Survive” program in part of after-school swimming lessons offered at the Memorial Sports Centre, with a participation rate of over 75 percent.
Youth from the four other “Project Sunset" areas in Kenora, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout also were put through swimming lessons and the "Swim to Survive” program.
“We had swim instructors who spent anywhere between eight-12 weeks with the kids, raising up those swimming skills, because we want them all to be safe,” explained Dunn.
The children's response to the programming has been overwhelmingly positive, Dunn has heard things like: “'Project Sunset' made me feel safe," "'Project Sunset' helped me learn kindness," "'Project Sunset' makes me happy," and "'Project Sunset'" inspires me to be myself.”
The program being OPP led also helps the youth involved build positive relationships with members of the police force and view them in a more positive light.
“I would say that not everybody grows up in an environment where the police are their friends and with this program they have the opportunity to get to meet police officers personally and develop those relationships," Davidson explained. "That strengthens the whole community,”
She is happy to be a part of the program and hopes to prevent drowning through the information “Project Sunset” offers.
“It's very unfortunate and that's why it's so important for us to educate the public about drowning prevention and the simple tips they can take to make sure that they don't become a victim,” said Davidson.