Child safety is a top concern for any community, and Hernando County is no exception.
When Hernando County Recreation Department employee Linda Christian spearheaded the plan to implement a set of learn-to-swim classes for area youths four years ago, this was the main reason. Since then, the class has grown from two days a week to five and from one type of class to five.
Originally, the plan was to offer classes for Level 1 beginners and Level 2 advanced swimmers. Now, those classes are offered at the Heather swimming facility in Weeki Wachee in addition to private lessons, parent and infant classes and an "adaptive aquatic" class targeting disabled youth.
Since the county has no official public swimming facility, the first hurdle the recreation department had to clear was finding a venue for the program. The Heather, a golf community in northwest Hernando County, was eager to step up when representatives were told about the goal to teach children safety around the water.
"Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for children in Florida, so we felt there was a need to hold some safety classes," Christian said. "The Heather was very nice about it and did a lot to accommodate us."
A second factor in the growing success of these lessons has been the help Christian got from two other instructors, Mackenzie Mackert, 19, and Krystal Gunderson, 18.
Mackert and Gunderson are both in their third year as certified American Red Cross Water Safety Instructors for the HCRD program, or WSIs for short. Gunderson just graduated from Springstead High in Spring Hill and was a member of the Eagles' swim team for her entire high school career.
"I just find joy in teaching," Gunderson said. "I love helping someone else be safe swimming at home or at the beach."
Christian, 54, also has a background in swimming. Growing up in England, she also swam for her high school program, and when she moved to the United States, she became involved in swim instruction at the YMCA. She has been involved in the county swim program since 1987 and was the Hernando High swim coach from 1998-2000.
Now a certified WSI instructor, Christian has the ability to train new instructors and raves about how important Mackert and Gunderson, have been to this program.
"Without (Mackert and Gunderson), we couldn't run this program," Christian said. "The kids who return from last year are familiar with their instructors, and you can't understand how important that is to them."
One accomplishments for the program has been the ability for the county to work around the tough economic conditions. The cost — $50 for eight 40-minute classes — hasn't changed since the camp's inception four years ago. Private lessons, a feature Christian added this summer, are also affordable at $100 for six lessons.
Either way, the proof is in the results. No one can argue with the popularity of the program. Since it started June 8, every class has been packed, and the spots available for the next session, starting in early July, are limited.
"We'd been doing morning lessons until this year, and because of the popularity, we had to expand to afternoon, evening and Saturday sessions," Christian said. "Every class has been filled to capacity."
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