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As a longtime Texan, Robin Steinshnider knows the pleasure of plunging into a cold pool on a hot summer day. And as manager of the Aquatics program at the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, she knows a lot of local youngsters don’t experience that pleasure because they don’t know how to swim.

So 15 years ago, she set up a program called Teach a Child to Swim, that provides “scholarships” for swimming courses at Department pools. 

“Swimming is about the most fun you can have as a kid,” Steinshnider said. “We think every child should be able to take advantage of that fun, but they need to be able to do it safely.”

The Department opened its first pool in 1914, the senior park and recreation manager said, and has offered paid swimming lessons for decades. Since its inception in 2006, the scholarship program has taught thousands of kids and adults to backstroke, breast stroke and back crawl.

“We don’t want the cost to be a barrier to learn how to swim,’” Steinshnider said.

The program has been a “huge blessing,” for the Koelpin family, says mom Beckie. All 11 of her kids have been through the program, including the youngest who’s in second grade. 

Koelpin grew up swimming in the lakes of Wisconsin and craved the peace of mind that her children knew how to swim.

“Drowning scared me so much,” she said, “And it’s something that can be prevented.”

“For me safety was number one, and two that they enjoy it.”

Her older children, who are now adults, all went on to work as lifeguards when they came home from college.

“At any given time there’s one or two of them in swim lessons,” Steinshnider said with a chuckle, “Some of them on swim team and at least one or two, sometimes three, that are working.” 

Applicants to the program are screened by income, Steinshnider said, and thanks to the generosity of donors, “We have never turned a child down, ever, who has qualified.”

An eight class swim course over two weeks costs $40, and there are eight levels, from the Parent-Child Aquatics for infants and toddlers, to the Endurance Fitness level for older children and adults. 

Last year the program awarded only a handful of scholarships because lessons were halted during the pandemic. But Steinshnider hopes the Department will be able to offer several sessions this summer.

The annual fundraising campaign for the Teach a Child to Swim program kicks off in March, when blue contribution envelopes are mailed with city water bills.  Donors also can contribute year round by including the designation “Swim lessons” on the donation form.

The campaign typically raises about $25,000 a year, Steinshnider said, which meets the basic need, but “if we had more funds, then we would allow kids to sign up continuously throughout the summer so they could keep improving on their swim skills.”

“Hopefully people remain generous,” she said, “And we never have to say no.”

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