According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drowning is the second leading cause of death in children ages 1-14. At least 18 children ages ten and under have died via drowning in Oregon from 2006-2017*. Between 2014-2017, at least 106 people drowned in state water bodies and 35 of those people were children ages eighteen and under. Seven of those children died in the Eugene/Springfield area. These numbers only count people who died between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend and do not include near-drownings or other water-related injuries. The CDC estimates that for every child who drowns, approximately five need emergency room care due to the trauma of non-fatal water submersion.
In addition to all the troubling data that demonstrates our community loses too many people to drowning each summer, we know the problem is even larger. The numbers do not reflect drownings outside the summer months. They also do not reflect water-related trauma or injuries that do not result in death. Drownings increased during the pandemic, while the ability to provide instruction decreased, especially amongst at-risk groups. Thus, while we know drowning is a huge problem, the traumas of water emergencies for our target populations are bigger than the statistics. Action must be taken to prevent further loss of innocent lives.
Two rivers run through the Eugene/Springfield area, and naturally occur in many family backyards. This is particularly a problem when children have disabilities, do not have swimming clothes, and do not know how to swim. According to the CDC, one in sixty-eight children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); however, rates of ASD are especially high in Oregon. Data shows that fewer than 2000 children were diagnosed with an ASD in 1995, but by 2013, there were over 9000: that means one in nine children attending special education classes have ASD and the numbers are still on the rise.
According to the National Autism Association, "drowning is among the leading causes of death of individuals with autism ... In 2009, 2010, and 2011, accidental drowning accounted for 91% total U.S. deaths reported in children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder ages 14 and younger subsequent to wandering." Additionally, a third of parents who have a child with an ASD “reported a ‘close call’ with a possible drowning.” Children with ASD are more likely to drown than their neurotypically developing siblings and peers.
Research demonstrates that exercise can help people feel some relief in symptoms stemming from bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. Exercise may also reduce the likelihood of people with mental illnesses developing chronic illnesses.
Approximately 50% of children in the foster care system have a mental illness, and they are ten times more likely to be sexually abused than children who live with both biological parents. We can provide these children with a safe sport in a safe space with safe and consistent adults as role models. Thus, it is our duty to step-up and try to make a positive difference in the lives of at-risk youth.
Literature suggests that developing protective factors (e.g. exercise, stable relationships, sense of belonging) aka "resiliency" can serve as a buffer against pre-existing risk factors, challenging times, and negative psychological ailments. JAAR Program aims to help children gain protective factors, such that they are mentally resilient both in and out of the pool.
- All employees have gone through the Flip the Switch Training, a sexual assault prevention program, and this will continue to be required for all instructors and substitutes involved with JAAR Program.
- We provide bus passes and swimming equipment (e.g. swim suits, caps, googles, etc.), allowing for participants, who would not otherwise have the economic resources, to enjoy a safe water experience.
- We use appropriate, educational techniques to deal with challenging behaviors when they arise rather than banning a child from the pool. Our staff are highly-qualified, well-trained individuals who can and do meet the needs of participants.
- Every youth who goes through JAAR Program has private lessons with the same instructor for their entire session. This allows the curriculum, and teaching modality, to be tailored to each participant.
- We actively work to stay in the lives of participants, help peers to have play dates with one another, and to remain in touch with parents as an extra resource.
- Our goal for the 2023-2024 school year is to host our first big JAAR event (e.g., prom, New Year's Eve party, etc.) for all current and former participants.
Future Milestones we will Meet:
- We are working hard to create the opportunity for children who enjoyed our program to go through it again. Furthermore, and farther down the road, our hope is to build our own swim team from JAAR participants. (Our logo has already been designed by a very talented young artist who is also a terrific swimmer!) That would allow for key demographics of neurodiverse youth to seize a new, positive opportunity.
- It is important to JAAR to work with children’s parents/guardians to ensure they can swim and perform CPR. That allows for participants to have a built-in safety net in what is also a socio-economic problem: the parents of children who cannot swim often cannot swim themselves and are thus unable to help their children with water-safety.
- One of JAAR's goals is to give children and families an emotionally safe space by employing a counselor, who would hold open office hours once a week. That will help us to appropriately handle emotional crises that may emerge and allow us to be a useful, factual, trustworthy resource for our families. Currently, we are working closely with the University of Oregon to discuss different ways we may be able to partner with a mental health professional.
We have a two-fold mission fueling our hearts: the burning desire to keep our community safe and the knowledge that swimming builds a resilience everyone deserves.
The colors were carefully selected to represent the mission of our nonprofit. The blue letters signify water safety and education. Each wave is for a different population of children: silver is the color of awareness for children with disabilities, light blue is the color of awareness for children in the foster care system, and lime green is the color of awareness for childhood mental health. We wanted it to be as inclusive as possible, so visually the waves were created to look like land, water, and sky!