Alan Stein, formerly the district governor from 2011-2012, helped establish the district’s goal to prevent accidental deaths for children as old as 14. According to Stein, accidental deaths are the leading cause of death of children ages 1 to 4, and the second-leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14.
Stein knows these deaths are entirely preventable, and helped introduce the district to the Josh the Otter, Children’s Water Safety and Literacy Project, which is focused on saving lives by teaching water safety through two phases – mental and physical.
The Voorhees Breakfast Rotary Club partnered with the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation to teach water safety, which was created after the accidental death of Joshua in 2008.
According to the group’s website, Joshua slipped away from his parents at their home one day in June before he was later discovered in the backyard pool, unconscious and unresponsive. Despite immediate CPR after discovering him by family, Joshua passed away after three days of life support was shut off.
“Therefore we decided to create the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation in his honor, and from that day forward we committed to solving the problem of drowning,” Kathy and Blake Collingsworth say on the website. “Joshua’s legacy will continue through the education of parents and children to keep them safe in and around water with new, innovative, safety education training programs and water awareness campaigns.”
According to Stein, the Voorhees Breakfast Rotary Club hands out books of Josh the Otter to the four Voorhees Township elementary schools, a fun booklet for kids that teaches about the dangers of water and the importance of learning to swim.
“In areas where the Josh the Otter programs are used, drowning’s are down 30 percent, but in areas where it isn’t, there is no change” Stein said. “We’re making a difference.”
First, instructors teach about the danger of water, to not go near bodies of water without an adult and to always go in the water with a friend, which is all what the book aims to teach.
Stein says it seeks to add an additional component of what we as a community teach our children when they’re growing up.
“When you were little, you were taught to not cross the road without looking both ways and to not touch the stove when it’s hot, but rarely are kids taught water safety,” Stein said. “That’s what this does – it teaches them to not go near the water without an adult, to learn how to float, to learn to swim and to reinforce the idea that you never go in without a buddy,”
Secondly, instructors teach children how to float and swim. Rotary is currently finishing up its first series of a four-week swim class, taught on weekends, a new initiative by the club. The club teaches 16 kindergarten students per series selected by the schools, with the next series upcoming in May. The club will be giving Voorhees Township elementary school students Josh the Otter books this upcoming May as backyard pools begin to be filled.
All the work the group has been able to accomplish this year, according to Stein, is thanks to sponsorships and grants to purchase the books and provide swimming lessons at no cost to parents.