Swim program for new Canadians teaches skills and safety

Swim program for new Canadians teaches skills and safety

Visa? Check. Language lessons? Check. School and a home? Check and check.

New immigrant families have plenty to think about when they move to Canada. Children’s fitness may not always be high on the list.

But with the help of a new program in Canmore, a group of new immigrant children are getting a chance to learn the basics of water safety.

Swim Program for New Canadians is a joint project started by Jumpstart and the Town of Canmore, about 80 kilometres west of Calgary, Alberta.

“It’s designed for new Canadians who wish to learn the basics of swimming and water safety,” says Marg Szamosfalvi, member services coordinator for the Town of Canmore.

The program was created in response to an influx of new residents, primarily from the Philippines, India, and Japan, who have been moving to the Bow Valley corridor in Alberta, an area of the province that includes Canmore and Banff.

“We want to welcome new Canadians into our community, and to help them lead healthy, active lives,” says Szamosfalvi.

“It’s about setting them up for success.”

A Town of Canmore staff member, who also sits on the local Jumpstart committee, realized that many of the new Canadians she was meeting didn’t have basic water safety and swimming skills.

She talked about it with her colleagues, and before long, they were applying for grants and creating a program. The grants offset costs, so parents only pay $10 per child for the six-week program.

The group then worked with Bow Valley Settlement Services, which contacted potential immigrant families and helped address any potential language or financial barriers.

A total of 31 children signed up for the program, which is based on the Red Cross Swim to Survive curriculum. 6- to 9-year-olds met each Tuesday for an hour, and 10 to 15-year-olds met each Thursday for an hour. Lessons were held at Canmore’s Elevation Place recreation facility.

“It’s about learning some basic water safety skills,” says Szamosfalvi. “We want kids to be safe around water but we also want them to have fun.”

Speedo donated goggles and swim bags for each child, and teen volunteers from a local swim club, the Bow Valley Riptides, helped facilitate classes, “so the kids could get more one-on-one instruction,” Szamosfalvi says. “Plus, they help with socialization, too.”

The response, from day one, has been amazing, she says.

“The first day, there was lots of excitement amongst the kids when they received their bags, but also amongst the parents as well.”

The program concluded at the end of June 2014.

“We’re going to then meet with each family 1-on-1 to find out what’s next, what program will work best for them, based on their abilities and interest,” says Szamosfalvi.

A second program is scheduled to start in May 2015.

And plans are already underway to create a similar program focused around skating for new immigrant children in Fall 2014.

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