NEW PORT RICHEY — On Jan. 27, 2004, Katelyn Michaud was following her normal routine at home.
The 2-year-old ate milk and cookies and watched TV while her mother checked phone messages. Moments later, Sandra Michaud went to check on her daughter. The toddler had slipped out of a sliding glass door that was left ajar, and her mother found her floating in the deep end of the pool.
Burying her youngest daughter gave birth to a cause for Sandra Michaud: she launched the Katelyn Foundation, which promotes child safety.
This month, Michaud's foundation is kicking off a program to help low-income children ages 2 to 12 get free swim lessons at the New Port Richey Aquatic Center. It's a way for Michaud to keep her daughter's memory alive and help families who otherwise couldn't afford swim lessons.
"I feel like my dreams are coming true," Michaud said. "This is what I wanted."
The idea came about last year, when Michaud talked to a friend in the Trinity Rotary Club.
Michaud, a 38-year-old single mom, wasn't sure what she wanted to do, but she somehow wanted to help other families avoid the agony she had gone through after Katelyn's death.
Her friend talked to an official at the aquatic center, and they came up with the idea to pay for lessons for underprivileged kids.
"I told them we would be very interested, because one of our main goals is to make sure children are safe," said Elaine Smith, director of New Port Richey Parks and Recreation Department.
Using the foundation's funds — some is Michaud's money and the rest comes from donations or grants — Michaud is signing kids up for six lessons, three days a week over a two-week period at the aquatic center.
Here's how the process works:
Low-income parents have to stop by the aquatic center, 6630 Van Buren St., and pick up an application. Michaud will review applications and choose kids for the classes, which are taught by lifeguards at the aquatic center.
Michaud will send families a $30 check to pay for the lessons, which is the same price members of the aquatic center pay.
No swimming experience is required for the lessons, which will begin in May. So far, about 25 kids have been approved.
"There was a gentleman here for a special event at the pool, and he said he would love to get his kids swim lessons," Smith said. "I told him about the program and he was elated."
Michaud hopes to sign up 250 kids for the swimming lessons, and has other child safety programs in the works.
Michaud also wants to help buy fences for families who can't afford them around their pools. The day Katelyn died, Michaud's pool fence had been taken down while a pool company worked on her deck.
Michaud, who has moved to another house since Katelyn's accident, says that through child safety programs, she and her daughter Lexi, 10, can use their loss to help others.
"She's up there looking down on us," Michaud said, "and she's proud."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.