The calendar may still say it’s spring, but at Downey Recreation Center in Lincoln Heights Monday, summer was in full swing with the start of the annual swim season and Operation Splash, a free summer swim program for low-income children and adults available at some City of Los Angeles public pools.
Lincoln Heights — a neighborhood on the city’s eastside — is one of several local hosts sites for next month’s 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles and on Monday some athletes competing in the Special Olympics were on hand to kickoff the free summer program.
Among them was Joshua Fontelera, a twenty-three-year-old athlete with autism who for the last 12 years has been a regular at city pools, taking full advantage of the city’s free swim programs. This summer he will be an alternate at the Special Olympics Games.
“I feel really good [being here] because I like to swim,” Fontelera told EGP as his mother proudly showed the gold medals he has won in past competitions. On Monday, he had the added job of leading the Pledge of Allegiance at the event.
Operation Splash —which runs from June to August — is a Kaiser Permanente program run in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and LA84 Foundation, a legacy of the 1984 Olympic Games.
“Operation Splash gives money to the pools so we can come here,” said Fontelera, adding that being in the pool is the “best therapy.”
Kaiser has given the L.A. Dept. of Recreation and Parks Aquatics Division a $240,000 grant to promote physical activity; another $85,000 was awarded by LA84 to help cover program costs at 34 public pools across the city.
“Last week we opened seven pools and on June 13, all 34 pools will be open,” recreation and parks General Manager Michael Shull said.
Lea este artículo en Español: Atletas de las Olimpiadas Especiales Inauguran Programa de Natación
The grants will pay for free swim lessons for 6,000 low-income children and adults, 780 Junior Lifeguard Training scholarships for youth ages 10-17 and for “Rethink Your Drink Campaign” ads to increase awareness about the link between sugary beverages and obesity.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,000 people die from drowning each year: It is one of the leading unintentional but preventable causes of deaths in the U.S.
About 60% of African American children and 70% of Latino children don’t know how to swim, according to the USA Swimming Foundation.
Many people go to local pools and beaches to cool off during the summer, so it’s important to ensure that everyone is safe and learns to swim, said Gabriela Tovar, manager of grants and programs for LA84.
“With programs like ours, we hope to make changes to these statistics,” Tovar said, explaining LA84 has been funding city of L.A. programs “to provide swim lessons as well as introduce youth to swim team, dive, synchronized swimming and water polo” for 30 years.
Mothers like Fontini Revivo say the free programs are extremely important for all children, bit especially those with disabilities.
Not everyone can afford to have a pool at home, nor do they have the skills needed to teach children with disabilities, she said.
Revivo’s 14-year-old daughter Ariel will compete this summer at the Special Olympics in the free-style swimming category. “It is fabulous to have my daughter in the [free swim] programs because she doesn’t get to participate in a lot of regular activities,” the proud mother told EGP.
“Now the facility will be able to accommodate children with special needs” like her daughter, she said.
Ariel said she loves swimming because it gives her the chance “to be alone” and to at the same time “work with a team.”
On Monday, Councilman Gil Cedillo (CD-1) recalled going to the public pool while growing up on the eastside. “Back in my day, I think it was a quarter or a nickel to go into the pool at Costello” Recreation Center, he said. “For young people, it’s an incredible place to put all their energy, positively and constructively,” he said.
There are still plenty of scholarships available for free lessons, according to Patricia Delgado,principal recreation supervisor I of the Aquatics Division with the Dept. of Recreation and Parks. “Registration will be conducted on June 14, 2015 at 10 am [at each pool site], sponsorships are available on a first come, first serve basis.”
Operation Splash is part of Kaiser Permamente’s Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program, focused on reducing obesity in the community by encouraging more safe physical activity and healthy, affordable food.
The Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports competition for people with intellectual disabilities, will be held this year in the Los Angeles area from July 25 to Aug. 2.
East and Northeast L.A. area Operation Splash Public Pools:
Lincoln Heights: Downey Pool, 1775 N. Spring St., (323) 304-0828
Glassell Park Recreation Center: 3707 Verdugo Rd., (323) 226-1670
Highland Park Recreation Center: 6150 Piedmont Ave, (323) 226-1669
Eagle Rock: Yosemite Recreation Center, 1840 Yosemite Dr., (323) 226-1668
Boyle Heights: Pecan Pool, 120 S. Gless St., (323) 526-3042 and Roosevelt High School, 456 S. Matthews St., (213) 485-7391
East Los Angeles: Costello Recreation Center, 3121 E. Olympic Blvd. (323) 526-3073
El Sereno: Richard Alatorre Indoor pool, 4721 Klamath St., (323) 276-3042
For more information visit: www.laparks.org or call (323) 906-7953.
As Estela Montoya watches her son Fernando Ramirez keeping a close eye on the younger kids in the swimming pool, she can’t help but remember that it was just a couple years ago that he started the lifeguard-training program. Now, at age 17, he is one of the lifeguards who will be on duty this summer at the Glassell Park swimming pool.
Montoya and her son are among the thousands of families who will benefit from “Operation Splash,” a program that offers a variety of swim programs to low-income families.
She told EGP that it was friends and neighbors who a few years ago first told her about the free swimming lessons available at Glassell Park, and she decided to enroll her son. “This is good for most of us because we don’t have swimming pools at home,” she said. “It gives us a fun place to bring our children,” she told EGP.
Just in time for summer, Operation Splash is back for its 9th consecutive year at 33 pools throughout the City of Los Angeles. The three-month program from June to August, offers free-swim lessons to low-income youth and adults. At 22 pools, youth, ages 10-17, can take part for free in the junior lifeguard program, the same program that prepared Ramirez for his lifeguard job this summer.
“He works here and enjoys it very much,” said his proud mother. “Now he knows how to take care of the kids” as they swim, she said.
On Tuesday morning, the 2014 Operation Splash summer program was kicked off at Glassell Park pool. Among those attending the opening ceremonies was First District Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. “The one thing government has to do is get more public space for the community,” said Cedillo as he welcomed the group of children standing by ready to jump into the pool.
Lea este artículo en Español: Opearción Splash Llega Cargada de Diversión
“Through Operation Splash low-income families are able to come and learn how to swim for free,” Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian with Kaiser Permanente told EGP. “We want kids to be active this summer and enjoy [their] local pool,” he added.
Operation Splash is a partnership between Kaiser Permanente, LA84 Foundation and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. It is part of Kaiser Permamente’s Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) program, focused on reducing obesity by encouraging more safe physical activity and healthy, affordable food.
LA84 Foundation is a legacy of the 1984 Olympic games and its vice-president, Patrick Escobar, told EGP that for the last 28 years they have given yearly grants to the City of L.A. Department of Recreation and Parks for the swimming programs.
“After they learn how to swim they can participate in other activities, such as water polo, synchronized swimming and diving, which we also support,” Escobar said.
Although the Kaiser grant is only for the summer programs, the LA84 Foundation’s grant is good year-round and helps support the lifeguard and water sports programs.
“We are very fortunate to have the Junior Lifeguard program,” said Vicki Israel, assistant general manager of parks and recreation. She said her department eventually hires many of the junior lifeguards to work as [real] lifeguards. “We do not only get them hooked on swimming, but they get jobs in the future,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with learning about swimming and water safety,” she added.
This year, with the help of the $265,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente and $84,000 grant from LA84, the Operation Splash summer program will offer 6,000 swim-lesson scholarships to low-income families; 780 youth will take part in the Junior Lifeguard program, and parks and recreation centers will host over 2,000 youth in its competitive swim programs, including Special Olympics athletes-in-training.
Richard Rincon, aquatics facility manager at Glassell Park pool, told EGP that their site stilll has about 75 scholarships left for youth ages 4 to 17 and adults.
“For the 4-7 year-olds class, we have the parent go with the child in the water,” Rincon said.
In total, out of the 6,000 scholarships available, only 3,500 have been given out across the city, Israel said.
Escobar said the LA84 Foundation encourages parents to teach their kids to swim, because “drowning is the second highest cause of death among children,” He said it’s also never too late for parents who also want to learn to swim, since they offer classes are for all age groups.
“Parents shouldn’t be afraid to bring their kids if they don’t know how to swim,” Escobar said, “We have lifeguards that are properly trained to take care of them,” he said confidently.
In Northeast L.A., the pool programs taking part in Operation Splash this summer, include; Glassell Park, Highland Park, and the Yosemite Recreation Center in Eagle Rock. On the eastside, Costello, Pecan, Richard Alatorre and Roosevelt are in the program.
For more information and locations, visit www.laparks.org or call (323) 906-7953.