After a deep breath, 12-year-old Ariel Figueroa is taking swimming lessons head on.
“I like the way they teach it specifically. Like, they’re not like, ‘You’re going to do, and you’re going to do it now,’” Figueroa explained. “They’re kind of loose with it. And if you have a problem, they’ll help you.”
While she lives close to Rockaway Beach, the waves and undertow aren't the ideal location to learn.
So, she's visiting a hotel. The Rockaway Hotel is providing a safe space for her to learn the basics.
“The hotel has one of the only pools open on the peninsula. And we were really thinking about how, as a hotel, as a community hub we could utilize the pool in the ecosystem of making a change in the swim initiative here in the Rockaways,” said Michi Jigarjian, a managing partner and the creative social impact officer of the Rockaway Hotel.
The hotel teamed up with the Rising Tide Effect, a not-for-profit providing free swim lessons for young people. Drowning is the second leading cause of death for kids under the age of 14. Founder Kate Krause says her inspiration for starting the program is simple.
“The need that exists. And the lack of access that these children have without it,” said Krause.
Since the program launched at the Rockaway Hotel last year, Krause says about 100 kids have learned how to swim there.
Krause hopes these students will go on to use swimming in life, perhaps become lifeguards one day.
“This is just the beginning. They can go anywhere they want,” said Krause.
Figueroa is already thinking beyond the effort to survive in the water. To her, it’s about thriving in it.
“Once this COVID thing passes and they open back the pool in our school I will most definitely try out for that,” said Figueroa.
Life saving skills — with the potential to become a life-long passion.