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Flying Fish program aims to prevent child drownings

Matthew Lane • Jul 15, 2018 at 8:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Child drownings are something all parents dread. You hear the stories. A child drowns in a pool or a local lake and you can’t imagine it happening to your child.

For Steve and Stacy Reeves of Murfreesboro, that horrible experience almost came true in 2004.

What happened was the typical drowning scenario you read about in the newspapers all the time, Steve said. The couple were having a pool party for their daughter’s fourth birthday. There were lots of kids and adults at the house, but no one was watching the pool.

“Of course I was the grill master. We fed the kids lunch and then I went back to the grill to make lunch for the grown-ups,” Steve said. “My daughter, without her life vest, walked right back into the pool and went straight to the bottom.”

Thankfully, Steve managed to jump into the pool in time to rescue his daughter. The very next day, all of the Reeves’ children were enrolled in swimming lessons.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Following this terrifying event, the Reeves became concerned about the incidence of juvenile drownings. In 2013, Steve authored a murder mystery novel about a little boy named Howard, then the following year decided to put the royalties from the book to good use.

Thus, the couple launched Howard’s Hope, a nonprofit organization that pays for swimming lessons for low-income or economically challenged families. Blue Cross Blue Shield Tennessee Health Foundation is one of the organization’s major benefactors.

The Reeves’ water safety effort is called the Flying Fish program. Since its inception three years ago, the program has helped more than 1,000 kids learn how to swim.

“(The program) is all-encompassing. Children learn at least Level 2 swim skills, water safety instructions and how to be safe around water,” Steve said. “If they fall in a pool or a lake or a pond, they’re not going to drown. They’ll know how to rescue themselves.”

COMING TO KINGSPORT

Howard’s Hope has partnered with the Kingsport Aquatic Center to bring the Flying Fish program to the Model City this summer. The classes are for ages 6 to 12 and will be held at the KAC beginning Aug. 6.

“We’re excited to provide this opportunity to the Kingsport community through Howard’s Hope,” said Kari Matheney, KAC executive director. “We need to do more to educate people about water safety and teaching kids to swim. This is a great step towards that.”

Children under the age of 4 have the highest drowning rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those children who die from an unintentional injury, one-third are due to drowning.

This is a statistic the Reeves hope to improve.

“We got an application from a woman who lives an hour and 10 minutes away from the facility she applied to,” Steve said. “She said she couldn’t afford lessons and would make the drive just to put her kids in swim lessons. It makes me proud that we’re doing something about this problem.”

For more information about the program, visit www.howardshope.org or call the Kingsport Aquatic Center at (423) 343-9758.

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