ELIZABETH, NJ — Twice a week for six weeks, about a dozen members of the Westfield High School swim team volunteer their time each summer with the Elizabeth Coalition (a non-profit that helps homeless and near homeless people) to give swim lessons to kids in need. The program is run by WHS students and, recently, graduates Blake Taylor and Caroline Felix passed the leadership baton to rising senior Emily Oster and rising junior Zach Kronheimer.
“We work with kids ages 6 to 12,” Kronheimer explained. “Many of them do not speak English and many have never even touched a pool before coming to our program. We teach swim lessons to the kids, play with them in the pool and guard to make sure everyone stays safe around the water.”
For Kronheimer, this program provides the opportunity for him to give back to his community through one of his biggest passions.
“Swimming is my passion and I am so happy that I am able to combine my favorite activity with something that I know makes a difference in my community and in these children's lives,” Kronheimer said. He added that he believes it’s crucial to give back to people who have fewer opportunities in life than he has had growing up in Westfield.
Volunteers work with the children at the pool of the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel. Kronheimer said his favorite part of the experience is the happiness it brings.
“Every time we walk into the pool, the kids always have smiles on their faces and that makes me so happy,” he said. “They’re always so eager to get in the pool. It's hard to comprehend the excitement they have, as I have been allowed to go in the pool my entire life.”
“As a swimmer, I often overlook the privilege it is to have access to water,” she said. “It is very important to me that I can share my appreciation of the water with children who have had limited exposure to it.”
This program provides the children with not only a fun activity, but also an essential skill, the student leaders said.
“Teaching these kids swimming is a life skill and something that they need to know,” Kronheimer said. “I feel like this program is completely necessary.”
“Water skills are so important for the safety of children,” Oster added. “It is very special to be able to give the children a base of skills that they can build upon and continue to be safe in the water.”
While the program has no more slots for volunteers this season, anyone who wishes to volunteer in the future must be a WHS student and should be a certified lifeguard.