Summer may be coming to a close soon, but a whole segment of area youngsters still will have a chance to splash in the water all year long. With the start of the school year, Alpena's popular Ready, Set, Swim program is getting under way once again.
Now in its eighth year, the program offers every second grader in Alpena County the chance to learn how to swim at Alpena's Plaza Pool weekly throughout the school calendar year. The swimming opportunity takes place during the school day free of charge. Transportation to the pool is provided and instruction is given by Plaza Pool staff.
"The purpose of the program is one of safety," said Kathy Helinski, a marketing and sponsorship coordinator for the Plaza Pool and the APlex.
Young participants are taught both how to swim and about water safety. The instruction is vital, said Helinski, considering Alpena is located on one of the largest Great Lakes and that area children also have access to inland lakes and rivers as well as ponds and pools.
Not only are second graders in Alpena Public Schools offered the chance to take part in Ready, Set, Swim, but so are students at All Saints, Immanuel Lutheran, Bingham Arts Academy and Pied Piper as well as home schooled students.
Grant funding for the program has come from Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan grants, including the foundation's Youth Advisory Council. Additionally, numerous businesses have contributed to the cause. Some of the local supporters are Alpena Oil Co., Lafarge North America, Besser Foundation, Neiman's Family Market, Alpena Regional Medical Center, Alpena Area Credit Union, and Presque Isle Electric and Gas.
Helinski said all who have support the program have indicated what a common sense idea it is to teach children water safety and how to swim.
"The program is meant to encourage children," she said. "It also empowers youth by increasing awareness, self-esteem and laying a foundation for a healthy lifestyle."
Ready, Set, Swim is one of three such program offered in Alpena. The other two involve tennis and art, and are called Ready, Set, Serve and Ready, Set, Create. Helinski said the Ready, Set, Swim program received a Michigan Parks and Recreation Association Innovative Recreation Program Award in 2010.
Anyone wanting additional information on the program may contact Helinski at 354-6164 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional sponsorships are always welcome.