Safety Around Water: Meet Philadelphia YMCA Aquatics Director Janet Wright

June 22, 2015  |  

Summer time is approaching and the kids are out of school. Camp is next up on the agenda. Moms, we share the same fears – will our children be safe during activities such as swimming? To help alleviate the thoughts parading through our heads during the warm months, Mommynoire reached out to Janet Wright, the Philadelphia YMCA Aquatics Director about swimming myths, the importance of teaching our children how to be safe around water, and how to truly take advantage of the YMCA’s resources.

The stats: Over 70 percent of African American kids do not know how to swim, and African American youth aged 5-14 three times more likely to drown than their white counterparts


Hello Janet, please share your background with Mommynoire readers.

Janet Wright:

I grew up in West Mount Erie. I’ve been a swimmer all of my life. My parents started my sisters and I in swim lessons very young. I have three other sisters. All 4 of us learned how to swim at 6 months and we all started out at the YMCA. We swam year round, so the myth about it being too cold or getting sick is not true. I am living proof of it. We’ve never got sick. Actually, we’ve always had perfect attendance all through high school.

Mommynoire: Wow, that’s amazing. How did you formally get involved with the YMCA?

Janet Wright:

I went to the YMCA one day and told them that I wanted to take a lifeguard course. From there, I just started to grow through the YMCA. I was a lifeguard at first. I taught water fitness. I just kept on going in the aquatics world. I became a Supervisor. I became an Assistant Director and then a Director. Later, I was asked to be a spokesperson and I said sure. Truly, I love safety around water. We are in Splash Week right now. It’s just one of my favorite weeks at the YMCA, because all you are doing is talking to kids about swimming and being safe around water and pools. What Aquatics Director wouldn’t love that and its free for the community. I am really proud of it and I am proud of my team.

Mommynoire: This initiative is dear to me, because my son doesn’t know how to swim at 5 years-old. Why do you feel that many parents are afraid to expose their children to swim programs.

Janet Wright:

I think many parents aren’t involving their children in swim programs because they have their own fears or there is that stigma that you are going to get sick if you do it in the winter time. So you only have these couple of weeks in the summer time to do so. It’s not uncommon for moms, grandpa and grandma not to swim because they weren’t allowed to. Years ago, you weren’t  allowed to swim. If you were of color, you weren’t allowed to swim in the pool. That developed fears. You may have seen your cousin drown and that had kept you away from water. It’s important to just be safe and comfortable around water. So many people get into water and get so nervous. There is no reason to be nervous around water that is up to your hip.

Mommynoire: Our readers will truly resonate with that information. What are your thoughts on trust and building a relationship with water.

Janet Wright:

First, put yourself in a life jacket that keeps you safe and above water. Also, make sure that you are not swimming by yourself. Make sure there is a lifeguard on duty. You should take a water safety course or swim lessons. Hence, both of those of things will teach you how to get comfortable in the water.

Mommynoire: When is the right time to teach your children how to swim? What is a good age to introduce children to the pool?

Janet Wright: 

I would say 6 months. It is also never too late. I know 80 year-old women who say it is their dream to know how to swim. We talk about the basics first – getting in and the basics of floating. You do want to have a healthy fear of water. Water can be intimidating. Get yourself to the YMCA. They do have an array of programs to choose from.

Mommynoire: Let’s talk about the scholarship. Why encourage the African American market to learn how to swim?

Janet Wright: 

With this Safety Around Water roll out, what we are trying to do is get 13,000 kids to learn how to swim because of that statistic. Three kids drown everyday. It has really set us on fire and set off some bells and whistles. We can’t keep letting our babies drown. The YMCA has taken a stance. That’s why we are offering the Safety Around Water scholarships.

Mommynoire: What makes the YMCA different, especially in regards to swimming in that childhood space?

Janet Wright: 

I think from growing up as a Y kid and being an employee and also watching other kids – its that loving and caring environment. I met my best friend at the YMCA. We take such great pride with anyone who walks in the building.



Drowning can happen nearly anywhere with standing water. But, as a parent or caregiver, you can’t keep your kids sidelined. You need to equip your children with the tools they need to be confident in and around water so they don’t lose out on the health benefits of exercise, the opportunities to bond with family and friends and the sense of accomplishment when they learn new skills. Teaching children how to be safe around water is not a luxury; it is a necessity. The YMCA’s Safety Around Water program can help you make sure they learn essential water safety skills, which can open up a world of possibilities for them.

This 8-session course teaches kids water safety and basic swimming skills that help reduce the risk of drowning and builds confidence in and around water. A typical session includes: • Exercises to help kids adjust to being in water • Instruction in “Jump, Push, Turn, Grab” and “Swim, Float, Swim,” two skill sets kids can use if they unexpectedly find themselves in the water • Specific safety topics like what to do if you see someone in the water who needs help • Fun activities that reinforce skills



Safety Around Water: Meet Philadelphia YMCA Aquatics Director Janet Wright

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