Program and Special Events Highlights

River Safety Program

Sunrise Recreation and Park District provides services to the City of Citrus Heights, CA, and to Antelope and Foothill Farms communities within the Sacramento Metropolitan Area. It lies between the Sacramento and American Rivers, and serves a population of over 167,000. Becky Herz is the Senior Recreation Manager and has been in the aquatics industry for over 28 years. Here is an excerpt from her interview.
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What inspired you to do the River Safety program?

The River Safety program started in 2012, during a meeting with Jim Putnam. At the time, he was the President of the Citrus Heights Kiwanis Club and he contacted us about wanting to do something to address the recent drownings that occurred on the American River and Sacramento River confluence. Jim was a lifeguard when he was young, and wanted to give back to the community. He learned that children from immigrant and first-generation families were drowning at a significantly high rate. Knowing we live in a region rich with lakes and rivers, as well as immigrant families, he wanted to build a drowning prevention program that included these families. So, we partnered with him and made it happen.

What does the River Safety program entail?

The River Safety Program is a sponsored community program that fits into our existing swim lesson structure. It involves outreach to immigrant and low income families, and provides access to swim lessons and water safety education for those who might not access it otherwise.

Participants sign up for 16 thirty-minute swim lessons over 4 weeks for the children (this includes 2 sessions within our swim lesson structure) and 2 River Safety Days for the whole family. On the River Safety Days, we go over how to use a life jacket, various ways to do a reaching or throwing assists, swimming with a buddy, etc. It is a similar platform to a standard American Red Cross Basic Water Rescue class. For the swimming classes, we’ll do a ratio: 2 instructors to 6-8 children. For the River Safety Days, we’ll have a lifeguard, a manager and 4 ARC Water Safety Instructors. It took about 4 months from its inception to the first day we got this program up and running.

The cost is $10 per child, but this fee really only creates a commitment so that the family will attend the whole River Safety program, and we waive it if needed. The main funding is covered by our local Kiwanis, Rotary, and Soroptimist organizations. We also partner with DART (Drowning Accident Rescue Team) who attend River Safety Days; participating in the instruction, explaining their mission to the families, and showing the kids their rescue equipment.

What are some of the challenges you face with this program?
Getting the word out to all communities. We did advertising through some local Spanish radio stations; we outreach through public school and community Resource centers, and even promote the program through some churches. During our summer hiring process, we ask applicants if they speak any other languages. The ones that do: we train them to assist us in the outreach for the River Safety Program, and include them as part of our teaching staff. We have an ethnically diverse workforce who speaks Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Arabic, which allows our agency to have instructors and instructor aides that are connected to the immigrant communities within the region.
What are the benefits that you see with the program?

We find that the families that participate in the program often return to the pool and integrate into the existing swim program the following year. We also see participant families referring extended family, friends, and neighbors; mostly all first-time members of the community that have never been exposed to water safety and drowning prevention. This has allowed the program to grow over the years. We can enroll about 40 children each year, and have had a waiting list for the past few summers. We also see participant families become aware of what Sunrise RPD can offer in programming and services, and they begin to participate in our other programs as well.

Any advice you would give someone who wanted to start this program?
You need to be willing to move forward, even if it’s not perfect. Exercising your flexibility to make a program is work is the foundation of what aquatic professionals do. Use your staff as a resource. Extend yourself. And lastly, your community’s word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools to help your programs grow.