By Sarah Beauchemin

When someone mentions San Diego, one overarching theme immediately comes to mind: water.

The wondrous Pacific, sparkling bay, fascinating tide pools and, of course, numerous swimming pools define San Diego as much as the sun, surf, tacos and craft beer.

That is why Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego – formerly known as The San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation – has made it their mission since 2009 to save lives by funding swim lessons for underserved youth and providing aquatic safety for all.

But why the name change?

teaching ever child in San Diego how to swim

Rebranding SDJGF as Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego in 2017 allowed the organization to better emphasize and communicate its fundamental vision: to prevent drowning by helping children learn to swim, develop “skills for life” and support the world-renowned City of San Diego’s Junior Lifeguard Program.

The name change not only serves to differentiate the organization from the City’s Junior Lifeguard Program, but it also “puts a better focus on who we are and what we’re really trying to do,” says Greg “Buc” Buchanan, PDFSD President and retired City of San Diego Lifeguard Lieutenant.

“I’ve witnessed the joy and heard the incredible stories that being water-savvy has given people,” he says of his extensive 30-year career on the water. “But I have also seen the tragedies. The fact these drownings are preventable makes them all the more tragic.”

Teaching Every Child How To Swim

Buchanan acknowledges that although PDFSD’s goal is lofty, it is not impossible: to teach every child in San Diego how to swim.

San Diego youth enjoying April Pool's Day
San Diego youth enjoying April Pool’s Day

According to the Center for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for young children ages one to 14, and three children in the U.S. die every day as a result of drowning.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, Buchanan insists.

“Drowning is fully preventable,” he says. “Everyone likes to talk about San Diego’s amazing weather and endless access to water, both of which are true. But what’s most imperative is that all people in our community are comfortable and safe in the water.”

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Get information about free swim lessons provided by Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego.

While some might find it difficult to believe in a water-obsessed city like San Diego, there still remains a high percentage of children here who do not know how to swim.

Many underrepresented San Diegans have never been to the beach that sits only a few miles from their doorstep or dipped their toes in a swimming pool.

This troubling fact not only puts numerous children at risk for drowning but also deprives them of a joyful experience inherent to their community.

“That’s where PDFSD comes in,” says Buchanan.

“Waterproofing” San Diego and Beyond

PDFSD has three top priorities for 2018 and beyond: to “waterproof” San Diego, to support scholarship funding for the City’s Junior Lifeguards and to establish an Aquatic Safety & Lifeguard Center.

First, PDFSD’s widely successful “Waterproofing” San Diego program teaches kids in underserved communities how to swim so they can participate in all types of water activities in San Diego. Waterproofing funding includes the following programs:

A funded swim lesson
A funded swim lesson
  • Aquatic Safety Education – Free aquatic education in classrooms across San Diego City schools, primarily focused on third through sixth grade.
  • Learn to Swim 4 Free – Partnering with the San Diego County YMCA and the San Diego Unified School District to provide free swim lessons to all third through sixth graders in the school district. Lessons are offered in series of 10 for 30 minutes each, introducing kids to fundamental swimming skills and safety.
  • Bridge to the Beach – Free field trips to the beach with seasoned lifeguards to introduce youth who have gone through the Learn to Swim Program to the ocean environment and beach safety.

PDFSD’s second priority is to support the City’s Junior Lifeguards Program through funding and scholarships.

“San Diego’s Junior Lifeguards Program is very prestigious and widely regarded as one of the world’s finest lifeguard training programs,” says Buchanan.

“So, for many kids that participate in our Waterproofing programs, it’s not just about learning to swim; it’s being introduced to a possible career path,” he says. “With the right training and dedication, they could become a Junior Lifeguard and from there, a full-time career lifeguard. I’ve seen so many positive experiences come from our Waterproofing programs that it’s incredibly heartening.”

Finally, PDFSD hopes to establish an Aquatics Safety & Lifeguard Center on Mission Beach.

Rendering of Aquatic Safety and Lifeguard Center
Rendering of Aquatic Safety and Lifeguard Center

The Center, which is still in the conceptual phase, would be a privately-funded building that would serve as the headquarters for the City’s Junior Lifeguard program, as well as a public educational center.

“We envision it being a focal point for aquatics for the bay and the ocean,” says Buchanan. “Our goal is to raise the money through private donors, build the Center, and then gift it back to the City of San Diego for the community to use for future generations.”

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To support Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego in their mission to “waterproof” San Diego’s youth, please donate today.

Ultimately, Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego helps every San Diegan, even indirectly, by building a unified community that thrives through a strong capacity of water safety and skills.

“In my decades of work in public safety, and now with the Foundation, I’ve concluded that everyone I’ve met has a story about drowning or near-drowning,” says Buchanan.

“Those stories, they don’t ever leave a person – they sit with them for the rest of their lives,” he says. “Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego’s goal is to reduce those stories and replace them with ones of hope.”

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