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Low-Income Youth Receive Free Swim Lessons Through Operation Splash

As people head for the beaches, pools, and lakes this summer, one of the most important life-saving skills is knowing how to swim. Fear is often cited as a reason for not learning to swim, both as a child and as an adult, but another key obstacle is access to lessons.

“I was 5 or 6 years old when I first tried learning to swim, but it didn’t go so well,” said 23-year-old Kahlif Carter of South Los Angeles. “I was small and I didn’t like that my feet didn’t hit the bottom. I just stuck to the wall of the pool.” 

With the encouragement of his grandmother, Loutrisha Swafford, Carter didn’t give up. At age 10, he enrolled in Operation Splash – a program in which Kaiser Permanente partners with cities in Southern California to provide free swim lessons for low-income youth and adults and free junior lifeguard training. 

After taking the beginner swim class three times, Carter eventually broke through his fear of deeper water. Through Operation Splash, he learned the needed skills to join the swim team, play high school water polo, and become a junior lifeguard. Today, he is an open water lifeguard – a highly trained first responder who oversees the safety of patrons using open water facilities such as beaches and lakes. 

Carter shared his inspiring story during a press conference at Glassell Pool when the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and Kaiser Permanente kicked off the 13th consecutive year of Operation Splash on June 7. 

“We believe people need both health and health care. That’s why we support community activities like Operation Splash,” said Edward Ellison, MD, executive medical director and chairman of the board for the Southern California Permanente Medical Group. “Our hope is that by providing swim lessons and junior lifeguard lessons across Los Angeles once again this summer, we can not only provide young people and adults with an essential life skill, but we can help them to stay healthy, have fun, and really thrive.”

Kaiser Permanente awarded a $408,000 grant in 2017–2018 to the Department of Recreation and Parks Aquatics Division for Operation Splash which increases opportunities for safe physical activity and aims to decrease drownings, especially for African-American and Latino children, who historically have low aquatics participation rates. According to the national USA Swimming Foundation, nearly 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Latino children cannot swim.

The Operation Splash Junior Lifeguard program allows youth between 10 to 17 years of age an opportunity to improve their swimming skills and receive a basic understanding of water rescue and first aid. The Junior Lifeguard program also teaches job skills that enable students to qualify for future employment as lifeguards at pools and beaches.  

This summer season, Kaiser Permanente’s Operation Splash grant underwrites swim lessons for 6,000 children, teenagers, and adults; provides junior lifeguard scholarships for 780 youth; and increases participation in the Rethink Your Drink Campaign, which raises awareness about the unhealthy impacts of sugary beverages and the benefits of drinking water. Swim lessons will take place at 36 pools in Los Angeles and junior lifeguard lessons will be offered at 48 sites. 

“Swimming is a survival skill that everyone should have. The City’s various aquatic facilities provide plenty of accessible options for increasing one’s confidence in the water, ranging from learning how to swim to competitive engagement through water sports and team building,” said Mike Shull, general manager, Department of Recreation and Parks. “The option to beat the heat by making a splash should be at the top of every family’s list and swim lesson enrollment is the first step to a fun and safe summer.”

Learning to swim can save lives. 

“Drowning claims the lives of about 3,500 people each year and nearly 25 percent of them are children under the age of 14,” said Renata Simril, president and chief executive officer, LA84 Foundation – a nonprofit organization that supports youth sports programs and public education, and advocates for the important role sports participation plays in positive youth development. “The problem is particularly daunting in ethnically diverse communities, where the drowning rate is almost three times the national average. That’s why it is so important to educate parents and children on the importance of learning to swim.” 

As a lifeguard, Carter knows this all too well: “Operation Splash is an important program because it makes opportunities available to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to learn to swim because of cost. It also opens doors to becoming involved in other activities like the swim team or water polo,” he said. 

Operation Splash is part of Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Eating, Active Livingor HEAL efforts to reduce obesity in the community by increasing opportunities for safe physical activity and access to healthy and affordable foods. Since the program’s inception, Kaiser Permanente has granted nearly $7 million for Operation Splash. Based on its success in Los Angeles, Operation Splash has expanded to six other Southern California cities bringing its total pledge in 2017-2018 to $856,143.

Additional Operation Splash grants for summers 2017 and 2018 include:

  • City of San Bernardino, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, San Bernardino: $79,500 
  • City of Riverside, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, Riverside: $84,150
  • Desert Recreation District, Coachella Valley Recreation and Park District, Indio: $84,150
  • City of Bakersfield, Department of Recreation and Parks, Bakersfield: $53,550
  • City of Ventura, Parks, Recreation, and Community Partnerships Department, Ventura: $53,293
  • Friends of Chula Vista Parks and Recreation, Chula Vista: $93,500

Please visit the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks’ website at, or call 323-906-7953 for information about participating pools in the area.