For the first time, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island (BBBSLI) teamed up with the Levittown Swim Association (LSA) to provide free one-on-one swim lessons for the children in the BBBSLI program. The swim lessons were a part of the BBBSLI Summer Series, which offered several activities for children, known as “Littles,” to take part in with their mentors, or “Bigs.”
BBBSLI and LSA were able to organize three-hour swim lessons over the summer, thanks largely in part to BBBSLI Summer Series Director of Services Nancy Travers and LSA President Carol Wyckoff, who each played a major role in orchestrating the event.
Amy Sledz-Sarin, Senior Manager of Marketing and PR at BBBSLI, explained that the Nassau BBBSLI office is just opposite the Levittown Pool on Acorn Lane, and many members of BBBSLI had been seeking ways to make good use of this ideal location.
“All the kids are facing some kind of adversity,” said Sledz-Sarin of the kids in the program. “At least a large majority of them have never had the opportunity to receive swim lessons or training.”
BBBSLI felt it was important for them to help provide these lessons, not only to ensure that the kids could learn to be safe in the water, but also to boost their self-confidence and provide an experience that would stay with them throughout their lives.
“You never know what you’re igniting in a child until you see them learn,” said Sledz-Sarin, highlighting that even Olympic swimmers were once beginners having their first lessons.
The one-on-one instruction provided by the LSA volunteers personalized the lessons and made them all the more memorable, and each child’s BBBSLI mentor was there to give encouragement along the way.
“After the kids were done swimming, they didn’t want to get out of the pool,” said LSA volunteer swim instructor Brianna Tucci, who said she was touched to see the kids “enjoyed swimming like [she] did and wanted to make it a hobby of their own.”
Between 26 and 30 children attended each swim lesson, spending the entire three-hour period in the water with their instructors. Some of the children began the program afraid to even enter the water, but by the last lesson they were “doing the backstroke, laps, jumping off the diving board,” said Sledz-Sarin.
Ten-year-old Sebastien Gibbons, a participant in the program, assured the Levittown Tribune that he was not scared to swim, but was well aware of the possibility of drowning, though he said this somewhat jokingly.
“Learning how to swim is not like the fear of riding a bike,” said Gibbons’ BBBSLI mentor, Tom Fazio, acknowledging that “scraping a knee” is not comparable to the consequences of being in the water without knowing how to swim. Though Sebastien was not entirely serious about thinking he would drown, it is a possibility that every beginner swimmer considers when stepping into the water.
Fazio, who has been paired up with Gibbons as his “Big Brother” since January, was thrilled to not only be able to watch Gibbons learn to swim, but also to see the child’s excitement.
“When I dropped him at home, he basically screamed at the top of his lungs [that] he learned how to swim,” Fazio said.
Gibbons’ mother Lourdia expressed her relief that her son is now able to swim, explaining that knowing how to swim has also given him a better sense of how dangerous the water can be. Now, she doesn’t have to worry as much when Gibbons enters the water, which he is excited to continue doing.
Because the swim lessons were so successful and have elicited such positive reactions from those involved, BBBSLI and LSA have already made the decision to offer the program again next year.
“What was most rewarding was seeing the way [the kids’] self-confidence was built—being proud of themselves and deservingly so,” said Sledz-Sarin, highlighting that giving kids opportunities to learn, socialize and build their self-esteem is exactly what BBBSLI strives to achieve.