A collaborative effort between Willmar Community Education & Recreation, the YMCA and Vision 2040 encouraged dozens to attend water safety classes spurred by drownings.
Thank you to the West Central Tribune for their reports on these activities! The following article and photos were published by the West Central Tribune in September of 2016.
BY GRETCHEN BROWN
As many as 150 children, siblings and parents took to the poolside for three water safety sessions Monday morning at Willmar’s Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center.
The June drowning deaths of two Willmar boys, 10-year-old Idris Hussein and 11-year-old Ahmed Hashi, shook the Willmar community.
The deaths shook Willmar’s Somali-American population even harder.
Monday’s sessions were born out of that grief, which spurred community members into action.
The classes were possible through a partnership between Willmar Community Education and Recreation, the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA, community donations and 50 volunteers.
Willmar’s Somali-American community was wellrepresented at the classes.
In one pool at the aquatic center, volunteers waded in the water, teaching children of all ages to float on their backs.
Some of the youngest children lay back with hesitation. They looked relieved when they realized they could float.
In another pool, children stayed on the shore, throwing in buoys and noodles to “save” volunteers.
“If you have to reach someone bigger than you, lay down on your tummy, reach out, and pull them in,” Cadie Meyer instructed.
At another station, volunteers showed proper lifejacket technique. Just outside, a Kandiyohi County sheriff’s deputy taught lake safety with his boat.
Fathers Jamal Hamud and Abdiweli Yusuf stood observing their children during the lessons.
“In Willmar, I’m blessed with what they’re doing right now,” Yusuf said. “It’s helping us a lot, and encouraging our community to learn swimming.”
“This is an opportunity for them. Right now, the community came together,” Hamud said. “They’re excited, and they do want to learn. ... I couldn’t ask for more. I mean, who would do this? This is a great country.”
Meyer said she could see the impact on the kids after teaching just one short lesson.
“Even in just the 15 minutes we have them, you can see them improving,” Meyer said.
Many parents said Monday they were grateful for the sessions. But now more than ever, they said, their children have so much more to learn.
“Really, today is not enough,” Ifrah Adam said, through an interpreter. She had two sons attending the safety lessons.
“If we can get in a week, two days like this even, it could have been more perfect.”
Adam said transportation is sometimes an issue, but she and her sons were able to make it Monday on a shuttle bus.
Mike Kubesh of Willmar Bus Service said the bus was donated by the service just for the event. It repeatedly stopped at six stations over three hours, including several apartment complexes and the Islamic Society of Willmar.
“I was on our ambulance service for 21 and a half years,” he said. “So public safety is a big thing.”
Organizers of Monday’s event believed bus access was important, said Pam Vruwink of Willmar Community Education and Recreation. She said there is a “transportation gap” in Willmar.
“If you want to make sure people have access to the information, you have to make sure they have access to get there, too,” Vruwink said.
Many in the community played some part in Monday’s classes.
Rice Memorial Hospital, Jennie-O Turkey Store and Bernick’s donated snacks for the kids. Domino’s Pizza donated a post-session meal for the volunteers.
And Vruwink said the hospital and Jennie-O also helped spread the word for volunteers and participants. Teachers from Willmar Public Schools and Education Minnesota volunteered.
That help made the event relatively lowbudget, Vruwink said. And support has been pouring in since shortly after the June tragedy.
“We had some people just call right after the drownings occurred and said, ‘If you do anything, we want to be a part of it,’ ” she said.
“I'm honored to be part of Vision 2040 and the team that is forging the future of the Willmar Lakes Area community. We are a strong vibrant community that works hard and works together through partnerships and collaborative efforts. This spark of leadership for this is caused by people willing to risk failure to reach for success. We have seen there's no limit to what a group can do if the individuals don't care who gets the credit.”
I made connections with community members and found many common visions. I have begun to get more active in the community due to the connections.
“We are proud to be part of the Vision 2040 effort here at the community foundation because it aligns with our core mission to engage people, connect resources and build community. It was an easy choice to invest not only financial resources to support Vision 2040 but also to lend significat board and staff time to help drive this effort forward. It's transforming our communities for the future our residents dream about-using their ideas and energies to make good things happen organically in real time and for years to come-and we want to be part of making that possible!”