HPER hosts free swim camp

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By MO NUWWARAH, SPORTS/HEALTH EDITOR

Two non-profit organizations teamed up with UNO to provide a two-week swim camp to about 50 Omaha children at the HPER building.

National non-profit group PlaySmart funded the transportation and equipment, and local foundation Nothing But Net’s “underserved or at-risk” children participated in the camp, said PlaySmart director of programs Ellen Grosso. UNO provided the facilities and instructors.

Inspiration for the camp came from the disproportionate amount of swimming-related deaths and accidents experienced by underserved youth, said Derek Leathers, a board member and founder of PlaySmart who lives in Omaha.

About 75 children arrived the first day on July 11, but the number dropped into the 50s over the next couple of days, said Pat Philippi, assistant director of campus recreation, aquatics. Working with fifth-through-eighth graders was a challenge for instructors used to teaching children age three to eight, she said, but the instructors were up to the task.

“It’s gone really well,” she said. “The kids have been great, and they’re really enjoying it.”

Instructors split the children into groups based on skill level and age. Some of the children would receive swim lessons, while others participated in activities based on life skills or academics. After about 35 minutes, the groups would rotate. Each Friday, the children got an open swim.

Good communication between PlaySmart and UNO was key to meeting the goals of the camp, said Tyler Elder, a graduate assistant on the aquatics staff and one of the camp’s instructors.

“The most fulfilling part was seeing these kids gain confidence over time,” he said. “Now they’re doing things they never thought they could do.”

PlaySmart’s mission is to work with youth and provide activities such as sports that help keep kids in school, said Grosso, who called UNO a “great partner.” The foundation hopes to increase class size to 100 in the future and expand from just a swim camp to an all-day program that includes swim class, sports and academics.

“A lot of things you learn in sport, you carry for the rest of your life,” Grosso said. “We give them the tools, skills and opportunities to have success.”

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