Efforts underway to protect Newtown kids from drowning

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SARASOTA - Drowning is the number one killer of children under the age of four in the state. And, with summer around the corner, Sarasota County Commissioner Carolyn Mason is ramping up her efforts to make sure a segment of the population that doesn't know how to swim is prepared.

"I grew up during segregation and I couldn't go to the beaches for a long time and pools were not integrated," said Carolyn Mason.

And because of the lack of access to the water, Commissioner Mason says she never learned how to swim.  Although segregation is no longer the hurdle preventing African Americans from learning how to swim, Mason says their are barriers keeping the next generation out of the water.

"There's quite a large number of African American youth who don't know how to swim, and I'm concerned because we are a coastal community."

Mason says most of the homes in Newtown don't have pools and many families usually can not afford access to the public facilities to get swim lessons.

That's a trend YMCA officials say they're also seeing.  "I've noticed a lack, I think its a matter of opportunity, kids are going to learn to swim in pools," said Sherwood Watts, a swim instructor at the YMCA.

So, no pools mean no access. Which, many say put the children at an unsafe disadvantage, if and when they do get in the water.

"Water safety is so important! I guess you can call it drown-proofing or getting kids water ready, so when they are in water that is over their heads or in a bad situation where they will have to save themselves, they can do so, and get to the side of the pool or out of that situation."

According to information from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration there were 18 drowning and 7 near drowning in the Sarasota area in 2011.  A trend county commissioner Mason says has pushed her to get more children in her district ready for the water.

"I want to see more black children in Sarasota in Newtown learn how to swim," said Mason.

Mason already working on that goal. She partnered with the National African American RV Association who is in the process of raising money to get children who live in Newtown swimming lessons and supplies.