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How do you put a price on a lesson that can save the life of a child? Learning to swim can help kids feel at ease, teach them to enjoy the beauty of the world’s oceans, and most importantly, can be the difference between a life lived in full, and a life cut too short.

The San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation has built up a family tree through community outreach to help raise up local youth and steer them toward success in life.

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All across San Diego, community pools, schools and nonprofits have banded together to make these priceless aquatic life lessons a possibility for so many across the county who may be unable to pursue this education on their own.

By providing funding to keep pools open, opportunities to keep the love of ocean ecosystems alive and classes for San Diego’s diverse youth population over the past year, SDJGF has continued to keep the message of safety, fun and appreciation for swimming strong.

In 2015, the foundation provided safety lectures for approximately 2,500 elementary, middle, and high school students; and a Day at the Beach for 80 of Hage Elementary fifth graders.

SDJGF also provided a parent and toddler program to give families a day of aquatic safety education at several pools throughout the county.

In City Heights, 100 family pairs turned out for those lessons at the swim center and the program was expanded to four other locations: the Vista Terrace pool in San Ysidro, Memorial Pool in Logan Heights, the Colina del Sol Pool, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pool.

“The San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation helps us to support little kids in our community, and encourages them to keep going, to join the swim team, to become a junior lifeguard and maybe even to continue down that path as a lifeguard in our community,” said Nicole McNeil, a pool manager at the City Heights Swim Center.

In 2015, 25 kids at the swim center received scholarships to help them reach their goal of becoming a junior lifeguard.

This year, those swim lessons are continuing, and for the first time, the City Heights Pool will have lessons in the spring too. The pool is also hosting a junior lifeguard program through its partnership with the foundation.

“The pool has changed because of programs like these,” McNeil said. “It’s become so much more utilized, and we are seeing so many more members of our community coming to the pool.”

Reaching more of the community is a goal the Foundation has been working for since it was founded in 2009. Last year, approximately 6,000 youth and adults throughout San Diego were impacted through SDJGF’s aquatic outreach, education and drowning prevention efforts. In some cases, that meant the simple but significant gift of providing funding to keep the Barrio Station pool open during the summer, or a Day at the Beach for around 500 families, students, veterans, and displaced San Diegans.

“Barrio Station is proud and grateful for its partnership with the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation”, said Rachael Ortiz, Executive Director. The swim classes held at the Barrio Station Pool gave 154 new swimmers the confidence to paddle over to the deep end of the pool while serving as role models to their younger peers. The pool saw more than 1,300 people come out to swim between the months of July and August including 85 Monarch School students attending classes.

The Foundation also debuted its Bridge to the Beach program for the Autism Tree Project Foundation, another educational nonprofit.

Since its launch in May of 2015, the joint program has served more than 100 youth living with autism by providing day at the beach events and a week-long ocean awareness program.

“The junior lifeguards and lifeguards really have a special touch with our kids,” ATPF’s Director of Program Development, Lisa Kaufman said. “With kids who have special needs, you never know what’s going to open them up. About 99 percent of our kids absolutely loved the water, so it was a huge success.”

Kaufman says the days at the beach are already planned for this year and for those who participated in the week-long program in 2015, the success there spurs excitement for this year’s participants and families.

“One of the lifeguards working with one of our girls spent the week introducing her to the water,” she said. “They were patient and by the end of the week…on the last day she got into the water. This program is really about the relationship the kids build with the lifeguards and with those who dedicate their time.”

The SDJGF continues to work closely with the Jackie Robinson YMCA. In 2015 they provided funding for swim lessons, parent/tot program (112 participant pairs), conducted a week long aquatic awareness program for 30 youth, and provided 20 junior lifeguard scholarships.

As SDJGF wrapped up 2015, Jackie Robinson YMCA Executive Director, Michael Brunker was a huge hit as Emcee (MC). Check out the photos from the “Evening Under the Stars” fundraising gala.

Mary Ann Downing, Drowning Prevention Advocate and Mike Donnelly



Mary Walter Brown of Voice of San Diego; Candy Stein and Bill Farr
Board members Bryan Diaz, Buc Buchanan and SD Junior Guard Program Manager James Murphy


This successful, fun event was held at the Southwestern Yacht Club in November. The money received through the event will go toward the foundation’s continued efforts to drowning prevention, aquatic safety and “Waterproofing San Diego.”

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