Donor providing free swim lessons to area students

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VENICE, Fla. - The former head of a famous line of handbags is helping to make sure students in Sarasota County know how to swim, donating lessons to second graders throughout the area.

One by one the Garden Elementary school students hit the water, learning lessons at the Venice YMCA. "We have water everywhere here in Florida. For kids to get to be seven or eight years old and not really be comfortable in it provides a lot of danger for them," says Aquatic Director Jay Coleman.

For 20 years the Mustard Seed thrift shop in Sarasota paid for some lessons, but it recently closed. Friday it was announced local residents Keith and Linda Monda are helping to pick up the undisclosed tab throughout the county. Keith was the president of Coach handbags before retiring. "We believe in giving back and children are one of the critical areas we have an interest in."

The importance is not lost on those like 2nd grader Chris Hutchins. "It's probably really important just in case you get swept out by the waves. If someone is drowning you can save them."

Florida's drowning rate for some age groups leads the nation. Along with the Monda's, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation is making sure everything from the lifeguards to bus rides are taken care of, says Veronica Brady. "If we save one life though this; if one kid accidentally falls in a pool and saved themselves, it made everything worth it."

Perhaps not just staying afloat, but achieving goals too, says Coleman. "Confidence that they gain from doing things they never have been able to do before. We get kids who swim across the pool or go off the high dive their self esteem goes way up."

Working with the Sarasota County School District to provide the classes during the school year. Soon they hope to offer vouchers to parents. "I provided the fuel but they provided the car. A community effort," says Monda.

The foundation is offering the program to any school that wants to sign up.

Organizers are also teaming with up Girls Inc. in Sarasota and hope to bring the Boys & Girls club on board too.

May is National Water Safety Month.