Teens living in two Lakeview Center foster care group homes now have an opportunity to take swimming and sailing lessons thanks to a partnership with the YMCA of Northwest Florida and the Pensacola Yacht Club Satori Foundation.
A grant from the Satori Foundation is funding swim lessons at the Y for teens at Lakeview Center’s Arcadia Place and Cabot Heights, which serve teens in the foster care system who have experienced abuse or neglect and are struggling with mental health issues.
“We try to expose these young people to different opportunities – giving them a snapshot of what could be,” said Donza Stanley, the behavioral health manager at Arcadia. Learning to swim is the first step for the teens to earn the opportunity for a weeklong sailing camp with Satori. Beyond that, the Y is incentivizing the teens’ participation by offering lifeguard training and the pathway to a job on the Y’s aquatics team.
This first class is being led by veteran YMCA swim instructor Donna Steffensmeier. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know these wonderful teenagers, and I’ve seen them build their endurance in the water,” she said. “I feel that this program can help develop useful skills and provide the opportunity to learn prerequisites for what will hopefully move towards lifeguarding class.”
According to Alan McMillan, president of the Satori Foundation, the group has taken about 1,000 youth out on the water since its inception in 2015, using sailing to explore STEM, marine biology and more. But to go through the weeklong sailing camp, a participant must be able to swim. “What we learned quickly is that kids wanted to do it, but they couldn’t swim,” he explained. “We started seeing swimming as a core part of our mission. Now we look forward to working together with the Y for years to come.”
At Arcadia Place and Cabot Heights, specialized caregivers work to support the teens’ recovery, health and well-being, preparing them for living in a family setting or in an independent environment. Some teens stay in the homes longer than two years before aging out of the foster care system. The partners hope providing swimming and sailing lessons for foster teens will build on their self-esteem and impart important safety information for living in a region with many water-based activities. In addition to lessons, swimsuits also will be provided to teens who can’t afford them. “When we’re looking at partnerships, we want to be a convener,” said Michael Bodenhausen, YMCA CEO. “It takes multiple organizations working together to make the community better.”