Kids ran from booth to booth in blue and red life jackets at Stewart Park on Saturday for the eighth year of Water Safety day.

The YMCA hosts the event in partnership with other organizations like the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Roseburg Fire Department and Respect the Water Committee to make sure everyone is safe around the water.

YMCA Branch Manager Gary Williams said the event came around eight years ago when Douglas County had six drownings and the board members decided they had to do something.

“It’s just to bring awareness,” Williams said. “The river temperature is terrible. You can be in this water for 10 minutes and go completely numb and be unable to save yourself.”

The South Umpqua River was 58 degrees on Saturday morning. One of the booths gave people a prize if they could hold their hand in a tub of the water for more than 10 seconds.

“Some people can’t do it,” Williams said. “Under 60 degrees is life threatening.”

The YMCA lifeguards were able to give away 250 life jackets fitted to each kid.

“Right here is where people go to the river to play,” Williams said. “People don’t drown at the Y, they drown in the river so that’s why we are here in the park, where people go.”

Bryson Stanley, 6, came over with his little brother Theo and his mom Erika in between soccer games at Fir Grove Park.

“I like getting wet and I like to swim,” Bryson said.

He was quick to remember that you check with the teacher before you jump in the pool and he should stay with his mom when he is by the river.

“The youth needs to know, even though the water’s fun, you need to be safe and you need to know not to just jump in,” Erika Stanley said.

Dan and Lonni Conopa know that lesson all too well after they lost their son, Dustin, in the river four years ago. They decided they didn’t want that to happen to any other parents and so they come out to water safety day every year to teach parents and children how to have fun and be safe in the water.

“As you get into those teenage years, you think you are invincible,” Lonni Conopa said.

“I see a lot of little kids, and that’s great,” Dan Conopa said. “The younger they are when you start teaching them this stuff, it will click.”

Also at the event was the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Marine Deputy boat and officers like Kenny Zarbano who helped kids climb into the boat in the parking lot.

“This age group is really curious,” Zarbano said. “They are getting to the age where they want to be able to do what the other kid did. We have water all over the place and the water is still very cold. Without a life jacket, it’s extremely challenging to get in that cold water and to get back out without cramping up.”

Williams said the YMCA is proud to be the forerunner for the event and the partners who have come alongside to teach and engage the kids.

“We’re all about water safety and that’s what we’re here for today,” Williams said. “We figure if we can save one life, it will be worth all the time we spent on this.”

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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