The pungent, yet pleasant, summery smell of chlorine filled the nostrils of roughly 75 children as they swam through the waters of Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, but they didn’t seem to mind.
“I don’t smell it,” said Jillian Zonts, 9, still wet and dripping from free time swim in the facility’s Splash Zone and waiting for swimming lessons to begin.
Lessons at the center come free to those enrolled in the Gainesville Parks and Recreation’s Discovery Day Camp because of a community investment grant from United Way of Hall County.
On the first day of camp, instructors test the swimming abilities of the campers.
“At least 70 percent couldn’t swim,” said Julie Butler Colombini, marketing and communications manager for the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Department. “With the proximity to the lake, it is so fundamental. It is a basic life skill.”
For four days a week, kids increase their swimming skills with a Red Cross certified instructor in the Frances Meadows facilities.
Spending six hours a day in a chlorinated pool is not a job that just anyone could do. Kymberlee Nichols, 21, teaches Monday through Friday and nine classes per day. She knows how to identify a good swimmer.
“Most kids catch on pretty quickly, like there are some you have to explain it a few times,” Nichols said. “Then the lightbulb goes off.”
Christian Green, 8, a first-time camper, rates his skills a seven out of 10.
“Sometimes I don’t know how to tread water. Sometimes, I feel like I’m in the mood for swimming, so I swim better,” Christian said. “Sometimes I just don’t feel like it.”
One goal of the 8-week program is to keep the kids physically active for at least five hours each day. Teaching healthy eating habits has been a new element of the program.
For Gainesville city residents, the cost of the camp is $85. For nonresidents, the price increases to $115. The swim lessons are included at no additional charge to campers. Without the grant, swim lessons cost $45 for city residents and $60 for nonresidents.
Last year, the program needed more funds to offer the lessons free of charge. United Way of Hall County was able to increase its funding and worked the lessons into the budget this year.
Jackie Wallace, president of United Way of Hall County, said she knows the importance these lessons will have down the road.
“It’s not always just about something you can see, and touch and feel today. It may be long-term. It may be down the road somewhere,” said Wallace.
“We just wish we could serve more children and help them support more children. We have to be invested in these kids in the long term.”
Camp attendees also play tag, create arts and crafts, take weekly field trips and spend time in Gainesville Middle School’s gym.
Registration for each weekly camp closes on the Friday before camp starts by 5 p.m. Anyone can register at the Gainesville Civic Center or Frances Meadows Aquatic Center between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.