If you have been to the pool at the Penobscot Bay YMCA recently, you have probably seen me. I have spent a lot of my time around this swimming pool.
My story starts in 1994 when I was 7, swimming for the Sailfish Swim Team. Since then, I have worked on and off at the Y. I have been a Swim Instructor, Coach, Assistant Aquatics Director, Volunteer, Sports, and Camping Director.
This past year I was asked by a friend to come back to help lead the Aquatics department. It was like finding my favorite shirt that I didn’t know I had lost. After a Pandemic knocked out many of our programs and norms, I knew that it would be tough helping to get things started again, but I have to say that I underestimated the challenge. Finding staff to help run the various departments at the Y remains a huge challenge, and the Y is not alone. Businesses across the country are struggling with Staffing — it is a broken record at this point.
After having to cut back pool hours this summer, we put a call out to the community to find lifeguards. Although Rebuilding our lifeguard team has been incredibly challenging, and there is still more work to be done, we are grateful that a handful of community members have stepped up to earn their lifeguard certification and things appear to be slowly heading in the right direction.
A challenge that persists for our Y is finding swim instructors. This is a little different than lifeguards. The lifeguard shortage is frustrating, but for me, not having swim instructors is ground shaking. Providing the community with an opportunity to learn how to swim has always been a core service and mission of the Pen Bay YMCA and at Ys throughout the US In 1909, George Corson ran the first format for a group swimming lesson at a Detroit YMCA. Since then, the Y has been known for teaching communities how to swim. It is what we do at the Y — or at least what we have done.
I am a pretty nostalgic guy, and I value tradition. To me, swimming is a part of my life. I have always taken swimming and swimming lessons for granted. As we approach Thanksgiving, I can’t help the flood of memories. Remembering times and things that have had an impact on me and my life. On Thanksgiving we would always share the day with our grandmother and other relatives from my dad’s side. They would arrive first thing in the morning, and we would start a Marathon of kickball, hide and seek, scavenger hunts — the list goes on. No matter what happened I could always depend on Thanksgiving. The tradition seemed set in stone and bigger than life. It wasn’t until my Grandmother died that I realized that traditions are not set in stone. In hindsight, my Grandmother was the glue that brought everyone together. We took her for granted and didn’t realize that she was making these experiences possible for our family. I felt a massive loss when this tradition faded.
Throughout my life I have worked hard at being intentional and creating Thanksgiving traditions of my own. It takes a lot of work. This year, I am feeling a loss, but for different reasons. In the 28 years that I have been a member of the Y, I have never known the YMCA tradition of swim lessons to be in danger like it is today. Despite hundreds of capable swimmers in our community, we only have one swim instructor teaching group Lessons in our Y. Out of an entire county in Maine, we have one swim instructor. This is hard for me to understand. Swimming saves lives. Swimming creates opportunities. Swimming gives a positive outlet to youth. Swimming provides exercise for adults. Swimming is therapy.
In the state of Maine, which has so many lakes, ponds, and oceanfront, we can never have enough swimming lessons. We are struggling to keep our swimming program alive, and we need to do better. Throughout the pandemic, the community pulled together — somehow, despite being confined to our homes and fearful of dying of COVID, this community kept the YMCA open. It showed itself to be more understanding, compassionate and focused on the greater good than we could have imagined. This makes me hopeful.
I am hopeful that this letter will raise awareness in our community so that people see the dire situation facing our swimming program. I am Hopeful that our swimming community will step up and offer their knowledge, time, and care to the youth that we serve at the Y. I am Hopeful that we will come together to rebuild the Incredible swimming program that I knew and loved as a child.
One of the things that the Y has always done well is to create a community hub, to provide opportunities for the community to step up and lead, a space for people to contribute their time and talent and be a part of something bigger than themselves for the greater good. The Y is a Grandmother among a huge family, the glue that can tie us together.
It is time for us to step up as a community to work together to keep this wonderful tradition alive. Our children are depending on us, and the Legacy of the YMCA swimming program is depending on us.
Y Aquatics Director and Sailfish Swimmer since 1994
Camden Herald Community Briefs Nov. 24