A line of children grew as boys and girls stepped up to be fitted for brand-new life vests Saturday during the Pepsi Float’s Water Safety Day at Amacher and River Forks parks.
The YMCA of Douglas County hosted the event, giving out about 225 life vests to adults and children. Children spun the Y’s prize wheel for chances to win a youth-sized life jacket, T-shirt, safety whistle, goggles, beach ball, bubbles or sunglasses.
“A lot of times we encourage them to spin until they win a life jacket,” said YMCA aquatics director Kathryn Zacher. “It also gives us the opportunity to engage them in conversation about water safety.”
YMCA volunteers and life guards gave out all 125 adult life vests at the beginning of the Pepsi Float, as well as five and a half dozen safety whistles.
Most drowning victims never have the intention of being in water, and most people drown within 10 to 30 feet from safety, according to the YMCA.
Jan Wildey and Patty Knotts of Roseburg brought their grandchildren over to the booth at River Forks Park. Wildey’s grandson, Caillou Wildey, 9, is taking swim lessons at the Y.
Jan Wildey said she took swimming lessons as a child, as did her children and now grandchildren.
“You have to respect the water,” she said. “You can know how to swim and still drown.”
Patty Knotts made sure to grab two life jackets for her grandchildren — Maia, 6, and Lev, 3 — before heading into the water.
Three-year-old Makena Gray of Roseburg also stopped by the booth with her parents, Sarah and Dell Gray. The girl spun the wheel for a pair of goggles and a life jacket.
Dell Gray said the family isn’t in the water much, but his daughter is getting to an age where they will be soon.
The Douglas County YMCA started giving out life jackets three summers ago, when there were six drownings in one season.
“It was really sad. We thought, ‘We are the Y. We should do something to promote water safety,’” Zacher said.
The Y has partnered with the Pepsi Float the last two years to promote its Water Safety Day.
“Being involved with a community event that involves water has been convenient in terms of reaching people who enjoy going out in it,” Zacher said.
The YMCA was able to fund the life vest giveaway through a $2,000 grant it received through Community 101. The program, run through the Oregon Community Foundation, is a classroom-based effort that gives students volunteering and other opportunities, according to the foundation’s website.
This year, the Cow Creek Umpqua Tribe covered the cost for 75 life vests. Waldron’s Outdoor Sports ordered the remaining life vests at cost. Other prizes were donated.
“Drownings can be prevented by having the proper gear and swim skills,” Zacher said. “Parents should be choosing safer places to swim with little ones. Rivers can be very dangerous, especially with debris you can’t see.”
Zacher said one basic skill that can save a swimmer’s life is learning to roll onto his or her back into a floating position, giving more time to rescuers.
To sign up for swim lessons, contact the YMCA of Douglas County, 1151 Stewart Parkway, Roseburg, at 541-440-9622.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and firstname.lastname@example.org.