By Satta Sarmah Hightower
August 14, 2018
During the dog days of summer, kids across the Boston area hit the pool and local beaches to escape the heat and spend quality time with family and friends. That’s one reason why water safety is even more important this time of year. Luckily, the Dorchester YMCA swim program has given kids the valuable skills they need to be safe in the water and to develop into great swimmers for decades.
But the program is about so much more than just swimming or parents finding Dorchester activities for kids—it’s a cornerstone for children in the community and teaches them skills they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.
The Beginnings of the Pool Program
The Dorchester Y, which is part of the YMCA of Greater Boston, opened in the 1950s, and it started with the pool. Years later, the gym, fitness center, and other facilities were added onto the building, but 60 years later, the pool still maintains its original structure. It has been a haven for generations of families every day since.
“Dorchester is an interesting community because people and families stay in Dorchester—it’s so great because we will see three, four, and five generations of swimmers that have come through the Dorchester Y pool still swimming in our facility,” says Andrea Baez, executive director of the Dorchester Y.
The YMCA, which has been nicknamed “America’s swim instructor,” has focused on providing swimming lessons at its branches across the country—and with good reason. About 10 people die every day from unintentional drownings. About one in five of these victims are children, and for every child who dies in one of these incidents, another five will end up in the emergency room. Baez says that in recent years the Dorchester Y has focused even more on water safety, and not just stroke and technique.
“We will see about 2,000 kids throughout our summer camp program and every single one of those children will receive safety around water in the pool,” she says.
In addition to providing swim lessons to an additional 1,700 children throughout the year, the Dorchester Y also has a thriving swim team program. One standout example is 10-year-old Azariah Mamousette, who has broken swim records that haven’t been touched since the 1980s. Mamousette was born and bred at the Dorchester Y—he started swimming at six months old and joined the Y’s “Learn to Swim” program when he was six years old.
Baez says that’s just one success story, but even more importantly, the Dorchester Y has given many children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take swim lessons the opportunity to learn this lifesaving skill, especially since studies show there are racial and ethnic disparities in unintentional drowning rates.
“It’s our due diligence to assist our community,” Baez says. “So, we take it really seriously and we do the best we can to not only make it affordable but to make sure we’re recruiting everybody to get into the pool.”
A History of Serving the Community
The swim program is just one of several programs that the Dorchester Y organizes throughout the year to support its youth development efforts. They also work with the Boston Police Department to identify kids who are vulnerable and to recruit them to attend summer camp for free. This gives the kids exposure to a wide variety of Dorchester activities, such as the literacy and STEM activities that the Y offers in its daily program to prevent summer learning loss among students.
“We’re keeping them busy and they don’t even realize half the time that they are thinking and learning through some of the fun projects we have them doing at summer camp,” Baez says.
The Dorchester Y also provides jobs to teens throughout the summer, employing them to assist with various departmental programs, including one YMCA of Greater Boston program that provides 300,000 free meals to kids who need them throughout the city.
To keep kids safe and off the street, the Dorchester Y also has an extended evening program, where it keeps its doors open until 11 p.m. This is critical because studies show that when kids participate in extracurricular activities, it can boost their self-esteem and reduce the chances that they’ll experiment with drugs or participate in delinquent activities.
“People think summer vacation is a relaxing time and this is really our busiest 10 weeks of the year with kids in the pool, kids in camp, and then the teens that are here until 11:00—it’s just non-stop,” Baez says.
How You Can Support the Dorchester Y
Like many organizations, the Dorchester Y needs all of the support it can muster to continue these efforts. Baez says that the organization is always looking for adults to volunteer, whether it’s helping in a youth sports class, providing mentorship, or running a workshop. You also can donate to help the Y facilitate 1,200 free memberships for kids this summer and to help the organization continue to provide affordable swim lessons, which are some of the lowest-priced swim lessons in the city.
Baez says she and her team at the Dorchester Y will continue to work every day to fulfill the community’s needs and to give kids a safe place to connect with their peers and learn valuable leadership skills—inside and outside of the pool.
“We all work so hard to better Dorchester,” she says “and to really make our neighborhood the best it can be.”
Learn more about the Dorchester YMCA, their summer programs, and how you can donate today.
“It’s our due diligence to assist our community…” – Andrea Baez, executive director of the Dorchester YMCA