ZEPHYRHILLS — All was quiet, peaceful even, at the East Pasco YMCA pool until about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
That's when a bus full of two dozen excited children from a public housing development 30 minutes away poured onto the wet pavement surrounding the blue water. They eyed the pool hungrily.
"Cannonball!" yelled 6-year-old Deshawn Singleton.
For a few hours each Wednesday this summer, the East Pasco YMCA has opened a section of its pool to the Lacoochee Boys and Girls Club, free of charge. Some local swim teams have to pay as much as $1,200 for the same privilege.
The program is the first of several YMCA outreach efforts aimed toward the youth in Lacoochee.
"It's a very, very poor area," said Jen Silvers, East Pasco YMCA's executive director. "This is just something we can do for those kids."
Pools are a big deal to the young crowd, especially during the hot summer months. There is no public swimming pool in Lacoochee. The housing development near the club, where most of the children live, doesn't have a pool either.
About half of the kids splashing in the water wore shorts and T-shirts or ill-fitting one-pieces. Some don't own bathing suits, but fashion was the last thing on their minds.
"This is fun," said Cornnekiqwa Redfield, 12, as she held on to the pool's ledge and peddled her feet behind her. "You get to relax."
"I was so excited," agreed Kanissa Reed, 9.
Michael Brittingham, the Lacoochee Boys and Girls Club's director and bus driver, dutifully honored the childrens' requests to watch them belly flop into the pool or practice their swimming.
Some of the childrens' families find it hard to scrape up the $10-per-semester club fee, he said. Many parents have lost hours at work, or been let go completely, he said.
"I feel like we get to be the one constant in the children's lives," Brittingham said. "The club's always there."
Nearby in the junior Olympic pool, YMCA member Henry Solano, 56, and his family watched the excited crowd.
"This is an activity we take for granted every day," he said as he bobbed in the cool water.
His uncle, Alfred, agreed that the laughter and shouting wasn't a bother.
"This is a tremendous thing to see," Alfred, 86, said, gesturing toward the children. "Right there, you see the next president of the United States."
About half of the kids visiting Wednesday didn't pass the YMCA's required swimming test and wore yellow floats around their waists.
Silvers said the next component of their Lacoochee outreach program would be swimming lessons.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 435-7312.