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Blog art croppedBy Jim McCloskey

I saw a news item last September that I’ve been meaning to call to your attention ever since. Broadcast by an ABC affiliate in Boston, the brief human-interest feature told the story of a facilities-hungry YMCA, a long-closed school pool in East Boston and the partnership the Y’s leaders forged with the school’s principal.

In exchange for access to the pool in the evening when school isn’t in session, the Y agreed to adopt the pool and take care of managing it for the school while providing a new and important service for its membership. In addition, the Y is also providing swimming instructors to teach the school’s young students a critically important life skill.

The background of the story is a bit odd, with the school district at some recent point having paid to remodel and upgrade the pool facility but then never reopening it. With a change in principals, a whole lot of momentum was lost – and then a growing mountain of paperwork collected to postpone putting the pool to its intended use.

But the new arrangement pushed the school into gear, and now large numbers of students and YMCA members have a nice, modern, spacious pool to help spread the valuable joy of swimming throughout the local community.

I’ve advocated just this sort of partnership in my blog before now and see this case as no more than the tip of the iceberg when it comes to arrangements that can get more people into the water and involved with lifetimes of safe, healthful swimming. As I have stressed repeatedly, the surest way to ensure an enduring market for pools, spas, fountains, ponds and other waterfeatures is expanding the population of those who have the quiet confidence that comes with knowing how to swim and be at ease around water.

Just think of all the other pool-lacking YMCAs and YWCAs, all of the water-bereft Boys & Girls Clubs, countless health clubs and other organizations that don’t have pools of their own – and then consider all of those orphaned school pools that have fallen into disrepair and can no longer be maintained within the budgets of strapped school districts. I have to believe there are natural alliances to be forged here.

Then consider corporate sponsorships. Why should their largesse be limited to naming rights for sports stadiums and arenas? When it comes to making a real difference in a community, getting a car company or a telecom company or a bank involved with keeping pools open, up to date and affordable gives these businesses a real opportunity to make a difference – and a chance to build brand recognition in ways that go way beyond occasional exposure of a logo to sports fans who, after all, are passive observers rather than active, engaged participants.

And this is not just about school-based pools: There are countless municipal pools that have been shut down by the same condition issues and budgetary constraints faced by school systems. These might be revived by willing partners and funding sources that have the desire and wherewithal to repair and reopen pools and perpetuate the beneficial involvement of the local citizenry in safe, healthful swimming. Clubs and corporations can make a difference here, too.

What the story of the East Boston school and the YMCA tells me is that my perspective here is far from a pipe dream: What happened recently in this one circumstance – which the news report described as a “unique” – has certainly happened in other situations, and it would be lovely if enough momentum developed to turn these interactions from unique to commonplace.

Fingers crossed!

To see the news item on the cooperation between a school and a local YMCA, click here.

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