The sound of laughter ricochets off the walls of the Northwest Family YMCA indoor pool. Dozens of YMCA day campers splash around, play in the water features and make a show of jumping off the side.

In the midst of all the excitement, day camp counselor Justin Williams patiently wades through the water holding 6-year-old Kedric Vance. Kedric buries his face in Justin’s shoulder and shakes his head. He doesn’t want to get in the pool today.

But on other days, a few minutes of one-on-one encouragement is all Kedric needs to get in the water. Kedric, who’s also autistic, began the summer fearful of going near the pool at all. So this is a big step, according to Kedric’s mom, Jennifer.

“We’re so appreciative of the counselors for having the patience to work with him and for being so kind and gentle,” she says. “As long as someone is with him, he enjoys it.”

Facing fears, building confidence

Program director Rian Ball says helping kids like Kedric “get their feet wet” begins with building trust—something Y staff work hard to do from the very first day of camp.

“Counselors create a genuine bond with the kids and they have such a great friendship,” Rian says. “So there’s a comfortable setting for them to get in the water, learn, have fun and understand that they’re safe.”

Day campers do more than just dip their toes in; throughout the summer, every child progresses through the Y’s water safety course as part of our efforts to combat a grim reality: drowning. It’s the second leading cause of accidental death in children ages 1-14—and the very real threat of drowning means the skills children learn in a water safety lesson can literally save their lives. Those skills prepare kids to earn the green wristband that comes with passing the swim test.

All told, 375 day campers across Middle Tennessee passed the test over the course of the summer. And 85 kids from Northwest's day camp alone earned their wristbands.

“It’s a testament to the curriculum and the program that kids from all walks of life are able to get in the water,” Rian says.

“It’s been a blessing watching him grow”

The sense of belonging and accomplishment kids gain in the pool—and at day camp as a whole—follows them wherever they go. Jennifer says she’s noticed a change in Kedric’s confidence and social skills.

“A year ago he was quiet,” she says. “He has really branched out. At home, he talks about his counselors and what he did every day. He’s been so eager to go back every morning.”

“It’s been a blessing watching him grow,” Justin says of Kedric’s progress both in and out of the pool. In his view—and in the Y’s, too—swimming is far more than a life-saving skill; it’s also a catalyst for kids to begin to realize their full potential.

“It’s really a joy to see them come out of their shells and see that they’re no longer afraid to step out in life,” Justin says. “If you can conquer swimming, that’s just one milestone.”

Nurturing potential through swim lessons

Once kids get comfortable in the pool, it’s often their very favorite place to be—just ask our day campers.

But summer isn’t the only time we build confidence through swimming. Lessons (for kids and adults, too!) take place all year long. Browse offerings and locations here.