Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis welcomed Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, three Olympic gold medalists, the USA Swimming Foundation and several eager young swimmers to Precinct One to talk about the importance of learning to swim.

The foundation’s Make a Splash campaign made a stop May 12 at the Harris County Aquatics Center/John Means Swimming Pool in Precinct One to promote swimming and encourage parents to enroll their children in formal swim classes. The foundation’s goal is to teach 1 million children nationwide how to swim this year.

Precinct One’s Harris County Aquatics Program, HCAP, has been providing free swimming lessons to children throughout the precinct since 1991. The program has received more than $256,000 in grant funding from the USA Swimming Foundation for the past seven years.

The foundation also presented HCAP with a $1,590 check, which is in addition to the $50,000 grant the program has received this year.

“We were honored to have the Make a Splash tour stop at our Aquatics Center, and we are grateful to the USA Swimming Foundation for providing grants to HCAP over the last seven years to help us fulfill our mission of teaching children to swim,” Commissioner Ellis said.

HCAP has about 3,000 learn-to-swim program participants annually. The program also teaches children discipline, leadership and teamwork skills.

“Precinct One is proud to invest in our children’s training. This program helps them learn a skill that they can enjoy all their lives – and one that may even save their lives,” Commissioner Ellis said.

Olympic gold medalists Simone Manuel, a Sugar Land native, Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines joined Commissioner Ellis, Mayor Turner and others at the news conference. Manuel and Jones also got in the pool with a group of HCAP children and gave them some swimming lessons.

All stressed the need to teach more children to swim, particularly children of color.

Child drownings are the second leading cause of unintentional death for children under 14, and the leading cause of unintentional death for children under age 4.

Sadly, about 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Hispanic children in the U.S. do not know how to swim. But formal swimming lessons reduce a child’s risk of drowning by 88 percent.

Commissioner Ellis told the crowd that he didn’t have access to swimming lessons when he was young. He has never learned to swim, but his children did take lessons.

Inspired by the event, Commissioner Ellis promised to learn to swim by the end of the year – and Mayor Turner joined him in that pledge.

Both put their promises to pen by signing pledge cards and attaching them to a “Promise Fence,” that will be on display at Discovery Green.

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