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Press Release Baker-Polito Administration Announces New Funding Opportunity to Support Free Swimming Lessons Across the Commonwealth

SWIM Program part of larger initiative including safety infrastructure, new Swim Safe Massachusetts public information effort
For immediate release:
8/12/2021
  • Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
  • Executive Office of Public Safety and Security
  • Department of Conservation & Recreation
  • Department of Public Health
  • Massachusetts Environmental Police

Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Announces New Funding Opportunity to Support Free Swimming Lessons Across the Commonwealth

Craig Gilvarg, Director of Communications

BOSTONIn an effort to increase access to swimming lessons and enhance water safety in Massachusetts, the Baker-Polito Administration today announced a new funding opportunity to support partner organizations in offering free swimming lessons to children and adults across the Commonwealth. The new Safe Water Initiative Massachusetts (SWIM) Request for Responses (RFR) makes available $475,000 for nonprofit and private entities to apply for funding so they can expand free beginner swim lessons to Massachusetts residents of all ages. The announcement, part of a larger water safety initiative including new safety infrastructure at state waterfronts and the launch of a new Swim Safe Massachusetts collaboration, was made by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides, who joined Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Jim Montgomery, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Undersecretary Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe, Massachusetts Environmental Police Colonel Shaun Santos and representatives from the Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs of Massachusetts, the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs, and the American Red Cross of Massachusetts at the Melnea Cass Recreation Complex in Boston.

“The Commonwealth is fortunate to have beautiful waterfronts and great places for residents to cool off and have fun, but too often we have seen tragic incidents at these locations,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Our Administration is committed to expanding access to swim lessons and providing residents in underserved communities an opportunity to develop this important skill to help prevent tragic accidents in and around the water.” 

“It is incredibly important that people of all ages are able to apply safety practices any time they are in the water,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “Through this new funding opportunity, we look forward to developing partnerships with organizations that have the assets and expertise to teach beginners how to swim, especially residents in traditionally underserved communities.”

The SWIM grant program will accept applications for funding and enroll organizations on a rolling basis through Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Through the RFR process, DCR will award one or more contracts to qualified vendors based upon responses, service capabilities of bidders, and the best interests of the Commonwealth in meeting its goals. Preference will be given to applicants that serve Environmental Justice communities.

The program is seeking partners that can provide free beginner swim lessons to Massachusetts residents of all ages. Partners, both non-profit and for-profit organizations, are asked to submit proposals for swim lesson programs at non-DCR sites to provide beginner swimming instructions. All organizations must be Red Cross Water Safety Instructor Certified, or industry equivalent.

“The new funding opportunity, as well as the other important water safety measures announced today, reflect the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to provide residents across Massachusetts with access to swimming lessons, critical safety assets, and vital information so they can enjoy our state waterfronts while keeping friends and family safe,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides. “We encourage all organizations that can help provide this critical support to Massachusetts residents to apply for this funding, and urge residents across Massachusetts to take advantage of these programs in their communities.” 

“Every year DCR-managed beaches and pool facilities experience high numbers of visitors seeking swimming opportunities for summer fun, socialization, and play,” said DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery. “While we enjoy a beautiful summer day, it is incredibly important that we all, regardless of age and skill level, continue to be alert, stay hydrated, and practice safe swimming to avoid a tragedy.” 

“Enjoying water activities comes with an important responsibility to protect ourselves, our children, and loved ones,” said Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Undersecretary Jeanne Benincasa Thorpe. “As public safety professionals, we look forward to seeing these grants at work in our community. Each education and safety initiative will empower us in our mission to prevent future drownings and save lives.” 

In addition to the SWIM program, the Administration announced a series of measures focused on creating a safer environment for all visitors at public beaches and pools across Massachusetts. As part of this effort, DCR announced that it is in the process of installing and expanding multilingual safety signage at all DCR’s designated swimming waterfronts. Additionally, DCR is installing life rings at all 78 of the agency’s designated waterfronts. Life rings are floatation devices attached to a rope that can be thrown to a person who is struggling in the water. Life rings will be installed near lifeguard chairs or near the water’s edge at state waterfronts in the coming weeks, providing an important tool for visitors to use if they see someone in danger while discouraging risky rescue attempts that can endanger additional lives.

To amplify important water safety messages and knowledge, the Baker-Polito Administration announced the launch of Swim Safe Massachusetts, a collaborative effort that brings together a diverse set of state agencies and non-profit entities working together to share vital safety information and raise public awareness around how to keep everyone safe in and around the water. The partnership includes EEA, EOPSS, DCR, the Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Boys and Girls Club of Massachusetts Alliance, New England Swimming, the American Red Cross of Massachusetts, Alliance of Masschusetts YMCAs, and the YWCAs of Northeastern and Central Massachusetts. As part of the collaboration, organizations involved in Swim Safe Massachusetts have committed to working together past this summer and into the fall and winter months to share information in future swimming seasons. Swim Safe Massachusetts will utilize members various social media channels, websites, and other available assets to strengthen important water safety messages.

“Drowning is one of the leading causes of death of children and it is so preventable,” said Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke. “DPH is pleased to be part of this new collaboration of partners to help us emphasize safety around water and the importance of learning to swim as early as possible.”

“With hot and humid weather, it is a great time for Massachusetts residents to get outside, enjoy the water with friends and family, and cool off, but it is important that everyone takes extra care to make sure they stay safe and keep a close eye on friends and family,” said Massachusetts Environmental Police Colonel Shaun Santos. “The Massachusetts Environmental Police will be strongly enforcing the Commonwealth’s boating laws and working closely with our partners on the Merrimack River, Connecticut River, and Lake Quinsigamond task forces to make sure that everyone stays safe on the water throughout the remainder of the summer.”

“There is no upper age limit when it comes to water safety,” said Holly Grant, CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. “We teach water skills to all ages and demographics and encourage adults, teenagers and children to learn basic water competency. Before going in, on or near the water, every family member should become water smart.”

“The YMCAs in Massachusetts are thrilled to be partnering with so many like-minded organizations with a goal to prevent drownings and keep people safe around water. Together we can save lives,” said Peter R. Doliber, CEO Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs.

“Boys & Girls Clubs throughout our state continue to make safety – both in and out of the water - a top priority,” said Jenn Aldworth, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs. “We are honored to work alongside other partner organizations as we remind our community of the important steps they can take to combat accidental drowning and ultimately save the lives.”

“New England Swimming  is proud of its partnership with DCR to host five Water Safety Days this summer across the state. Working with hundreds of young children to increase water safety and enjoyment was a tremendously rewarding experience for all of our volunteers,” said Matt Soska, General Chair of New England Swimming. “We are looking forward to expanding our partnership with DCR in the upcoming year.”

“The YWCA Northeastern Massachusetts knows the importance of water safety and introducing it at a very young age,” said Maricelis Ortiz, Administrator of Children and Family Services for the YWCA of Northeastern Massachusetts. “Our children participate in water safety weekly as part of their curriculum. We are thrilled to be part of a broader initiative to help spread the importance of being Smart around water.”

The SWIM program builds on the Administration’s efforts to provide free swimming lessons, which are offered every summer at select DCR-managed pools. This summer, DCR provided free swimming lessons to over 315 young people over three, two-week sessions. However, demand far exceeded the agency’s ability to provide enough swim lessons for all those interested. The SWIM program will significantly expand the program by reaching more residents in more communities across the Commonwealth, with a central focus on expanding access to swimming lessons for those who are most in need.

In July and August, 2021, DCR and New England Swimming provided a series of free Water Safety Day programs at five agency-managed locations. More than 250 children participated in the programming, which provided fun activities that promoted aquatic safety skills and importance of water competency.

“I am proud to support this water safety initiative, as it is vital to ensuring our community has access to great programming to combat historic stigmas,” said State Representative Chynah Tyler (D-Boston). “Educating youth and families brings us a step closer to the vibrant summer programming we all want to see and need in our community.”

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Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Announces New Funding Opportunity to Support Free Swimming Lessons Across the Commonwealth

Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs 

EEA seeks to protect, preserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s environmental resources while ensuring a clean energy future for the state’s residents. Through the stewardship of open space, protection of environmental resources, and enhancement of clean energy, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs works tirelessly to make Massachusetts a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family.

Executive Office of Public Safety and Security 

EOPSS is responsible for the policy development and budgetary oversight of its secretariat agencies, independent programs, and several boards which aid in crime prevention, homeland security preparedness, and ensuring the safety of residents and visitors in the Commonwealth.

Department of Conservation & Recreation 

DCR manages state parks and oversees more than 450,000 acres throughout Massachusetts. It protects, promotes, and enhances the state’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources.

Department of Public Health 

DPH promotes the health and well-being of all residents by ensuring access to high-quality public health and healthcare services, and by focusing on prevention, wellness, and health equity in all people.

Massachusetts Environmental Police 

The mission of the Massachusetts Environmental Police is to protect the environment and natural resources of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through enforcement, education, and public outreach.
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