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Red Cross Program Addresses Disproportionate Hispanic Drownings
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September 14, 2009

As a long-range solution to so many drownings among young Latino men, a Red Cross program makes sure Latin children learn to swim, and teaches their parents basic water safety skills.

A Vamos a Nadar student practices floating on his back
A Vamos a Nadar student practices floating on his back.

Rosiris Guerra knows that most drownings are preventable. As health and safety director for the American Red Cross of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, she is in a position to act on that knowledge. And act she has.

A few years ago, county officials learned that a disproportionate number of Latinos drown in Sonoma County’s rivers, lakes and pools. The Hispanic community comprises about 20 percent of the population, but accounts for 75 percent of the county’s drowning deaths.

Guerra was part of a community group that developed a program to provide immediate solutions—PSAs, flyers and other communications about water safety.

Words, however valuable, weren’t enough for Guerra. “We needed a long term solution,” she says. With the support of colleagues from the regional parks system, Guerra crafted a program to make sure Latin children learn to swim, and to teach their parents basic water safety skills.

She called her program Vamos a Nadar (Let’s go Swimming). It’s intent: to change the mentality about water safety, starting at a young age.

When swim season closed this summer, Vamos a Nadar ended its sixth season. A lot of good has happened since the City of San Rosa agreed to do a pilot program in 2004.

More than 1,000 children and 500 parents have attended 25 Vamos a Nadar events. The free day of activities includes an introductory Red Cross swimming lesson for kids five years of age and older, a water safety presentation for their parents and a demonstration for both parents and children on non-swimming rescues using personal items and natural resources. Each child also receives a coupon from the Red Cross for a complete swim lesson in any pool in Sonoma County.

Some students have been inspired to go beyond the swim lessons. One young girl, whose uncle drowned, came to the program as a poor swimmer—she is now a lifeguard and a Vamos a Nadar instructor. Another Vamos a Nadar student has gone on to advanced water camp.

Guerra most enjoys seeing the faces of the children, their smiles and openness to learning. She also values the thank-yous from parents.  Guerra describes her satisfaction with Vamos a Nadar in no uncertain terms. “This is my baby,” she says, “I love it.”

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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