This is part two of a two part series. The first part was about trusting the process. This is about how volunteering to teach kids to swim taught me to trust the process.
Come get me, the girl with the pink swimcap said through her outstretched arms and warm smile. I waited, watching her rainbow-beaded hair bounce under a bright swimcap as she laughed while the head instructor checked on all the students.
I was in the same spot as the girl when I was 7, learning how to swim. This time, I was the among the teachers.
Our local school district has program in which every second-grader learns to swim. It’s set up in September. I volunteered for two days out of the two week program.
The group was broken up into three groups, each with a different skill level. Some never set foot in water except for baths. Some had swimming pools in their yards and were quite advanced.
We live in a coastal area, North Carolina’s Inner Banks, about an hour from the Outer Banks. We’re surrounded by the Chowan River and Albemarle Sound. Yet, there are many families with two, three or four generations that have never learned how to swim. It’s these families that are the most vulnerable to drowning. It’s these families that this program is trying to help.
Ms. Deidra, who also coaches the local high school tennis team, is the main instructor. The rest of us are volunteers who set aside a few hours of our day to help the kids learn how to swim.
Both days of my volunteering were spent helping Mr. Chris, a former lifeguard who is an avid boater.
I helped the girl with the beaded hair into the pool. After a warm up, we worked on gliding and floating. Eventually we added moving your arms and legs into the mix, for real swimming. Some of the advanced kids learned how to tread water and how to do the breast stroke.
She and her classmates also learned the basic water rescue technique — Reach, Throw, Row and Go. First you reach out to the person, either with your arm or something long. If that doesn’t work, you throw a floatation device behind them and pull it toward them. If you have a boat, you row out to them. Then, as a last resort, you swim out to them.
It’s a lot for second-grader to take in. Some of them got the hang of it while I was there. I had to help a few kids correct their swimming technique so they could swim more than a few strokes before having to take a break. Once they got their form right, their eyes would get really big and a smile spread across their faces as they realized what they had done.
The girl with the beaded hair was paired with her friend. They were both eager to show off what they learned.
“Miss Nicole, watch me do the splits.”
“Watch me do a flip.”
“Watch me glide.”
It was a great experience seeing them do something for the first time.
I was most struck by how trusting the kids were of the process. I took martial arts lessons in college. The instructor said he prefers teaching young kids because they don’t have to think or psych themselves into doing something. You show them a move, and they do it to the best of their ability. For adults, sometimes you have to convince them that their body can do what you want it to do.
It was much the same way with swim lessons. While some children were scared — I think it was mostly because the water was cold — it didn’t take long to convince them to go underwater or relax. On the other hand, the instructors mostly kept their upper body above the water. I know I needed some convincing to do some of the stuff we were doing.
On the second day of volunteering, the girl with the beaded hair reached out to me again for help getting into the water. I worked mostly with her and her friend again as we went through the lesson. She made a lot of improvement during those few days.
Each kid taught me something different — gratitude in being able to participate, humility in seeking help when you’re struggling, pride in accomplishing something that should be part of a kid’s right of passage.
It felt good. Both volunteering and seeing the kids responses brought an euphoria that I hadn’t felt in a while. I get the feeling mostly when I help my kids do hard stuff. Yes, it can be challenging or frustrating, but in the end, when your kid accomplishes his or her goal, it is so very satisfying for both of you.
If you have a chance to share your passion through volunteering, pleas consider doing so. You won’t regret it.