Centennial Flashback: Teaching water safety in the 1970s and ‘80s through backyard swim programs

ARC_CentennialLogo_Tagline_LARegionThroughout the Red Cross Month of March, the Red Cross Los Angeles Region is Celebrating its 100 Years of Service with a series titled: Centennial Flashback.  This will be a historical snapshots about the Red Cross L.A. Chapter in action during the past 100 years

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Water safety has been an important part of the American Red Cross training since 1914 when Commodore Wilbert E. Longfellow enlisted the help of the organization in his “waterproofing of America” campaign.

The American Red Cross Greater Los Angeles Chapter joined in this campaign by offering training that helped residents to be water-safe and enabled them to teach others. Such training is especially needed in Southern California with its proliferation of backyard swimming pools, lakes and reservoirs and, of course, a coastline with many beautiful beaches that draw hundreds of thousands on warm summer days.

In 1972, a dedicated chapter volunteer from the Santa Clarita Valley, Pauline Varner, and other Red Cross volunteers joined with local PTAs to establish the Newhall Backyard Swim Program.

The program, which was free, was designed to teach kindergarten through sixth grade youngsters swimming skills and how to be safe around the water. Pauline, known to most as Pauly, coordinated the program.

Twenty-five Santa Clarita Valley families volunteered the use of their private backyard swimming pools for the classes, which were 45-minute sessions held over a period of two consecutive weeks. Classes of six to 10 children were conducted by certified Red Cross Water Safety Instructors. Each instructor was assisted by a volunteer Red Cross swimmer aide and an adult class monitor. In addition, non-swimmer parents were given instruction in poolside rescue techniques.

Enrollment was secured from the valley’s 11 participating schools.

The program grew over the years, adding courses of different skill levels and providing artificial respiration and safety information in all courses. It continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, training thousands of children to be “waterproof.”

By Barbara Wilks

Chapter Historian

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