CHICAGO (CBS) — For many children at the Robert E. Wood Boys & Girls Club on 25th Street, this is their first time in the water.
“Swimming is a life lesson,” said Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer Rowdy Gaines.
Gaines travels the country with the ZAC Camps, a week-long program aimed at promoting water safety to children.
“If a child takes swim lessons, it reduces that risk of drowning by 90 percent. If a child takes one or two swim lessons, it doesn’t mean their going to be completely water safe but to be aware of that water safety message it’s so important to children, especially children who don’t have that opportunity and that’s why we are here a the Boys & Girls Club. Most kids here would never have this opportunity if we didn’t have this camp,” he said.
“We wanted to make a difference for other families,” said Karen Cohn, who lost her 6-year old son Zachary after he became trapped in drain in the family’s backyard swimming pool.
As a tribute to their son, Karen and Brian Cohn launched the ZAC Foundation in 2008 which offers water safety education for children and parents.
“We teach the ABC’s and D’s of water safety. A is for adult supervision, B is for barriers to keep children to respect fences and gates, C is for classes, who needs to know how to swim and D is for drain safety which is hallmark of our foundation because that’s how we lost our son,” said Cohn.
Monday launched the program at the General Wood Boys and Girls club where 100 kids ages 5-9 will take the week long program. The program includes swim lessons, diving demonstrations from the police and fire departments, classroom instruction and water safety.
Cohn says they’ve also written a children’s book about swim safety called “The Polar Bear Who Couldn’t, Wouldn’t Swim”
“It’s just another tool to give families and their children for learning how to swim and being safe around water,” Cohn said.
“Kids are naturally drawn to the water. We want to spread this message everywhere,” said Gaines.
Every year, 760 children under the age of 14 die as a result of an accidental drowning, according to the ZAC Foundation. More than 60 percent of those children are under the age of 5.
For more information on the program, visit www.thezacfoundation.com.