Marco YMCA: On the lookout for lifeguards
Aquatic facilities throughout Collier County – including the Greater Marco Family YMCA – are experiencing a critical shortage of qualified lifeguards and swim instructors.
This doesn’t mean the facilities are without lifeguard protection. Instead, some lifeguards are chipping in with extra shifts, and in some cases qualified staff members are helping as well.
The reason for the shortage, said Marco Y aquatics director and chronic disease specialist Hannah Heidenreich might be related to the cost of certification that runs around $225 to $275. In addition, the lifeguard pay scale is around $10 an hour, while swim instructors earn about $12 an hour.
“We’re looking for sponsors to help with the costs of (lifeguard) certification,” Heidenreich said, adding that all the facilities are also targeting younger people like university students and high school students to ease the problem.
A pilot program to woo high school students is already underway at Golden Gate High School, said Paula DiGrigoli, who is director of the Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition in the county.
The idea, she said is to teach as many youngsters to swim as possible, in turn leading to a percentage of them showing interest in certification and subsequent jobs.
Recently, representatives from facilities such as the Naples YMCA, Marco YMCA, Sun ‘n Fun Lagoon, the Boys and Girls Club and the imminent Eagles Lake Community Park met to discuss the lifeguard shortage.
“All said they were short on lifeguards and swim instructors,” Heidenreich said. “All are in hiring mode right now. There are definitely opportunities out there.”
She said attracting more swim instructors could in turn swell the ranks of lifeguards down the line. And, those instructors could also teach people to become instructors as well.
“It’s sad,” she said of the combined shortage, “considering we’re surrounded by water.”
Lifeguard certification, Heidenreich said, requires some theory as well as being able to swim 300 meters, treading water for 2 minutes, diving for objects and doing backstroke for 25 meters.
Those interested in becoming a lifeguard must be 15 years of age, incidentally. If the practical and theory requirements are met, virtually anybody can go for it.
Mom of two Karla Meester has been a part-time lifeguard at the Marco Y for the past two years, for example, working four-hour shifts three days a week.
“It’s not a lot of money, but I like helping the community,” said Meester. “At this time of year, people come from everywhere and you meet some very nice ones. I love to see people swimming, too.”
She said the job itself requires constant vigilance, and that occasionally inclement weather can sometimes be a little taxing. But overall, she said, it’s a pleasant way to earn some extra cash.
DiGrigoli said the Coalition has made strides in drowning prevention, particularly that of children.
“This is the result of community drowning prevention efforts, and while this is positive, drowning is still the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4 in our county and state,” DiGrigoli said.
“We’d love to fix the bad statistics out there,” the Marco Y’s Heidenreich added.
DiGrigoli said a third tier of potential lifeguards could come from first responders such as firefighters, many of whom look for extra cash on their days off.
For more information on certification, visit safehealthychildren.org/lifeguards-water-safety-instructors-needed/
For Greater Marco Family YMCA information on the subject, visit marcoymca.org (an app is available) or call 394-3144. The Y also has a wide variety of programs for youth and adults.
Mom of two Karla Meester does three shifts a week at the Greater Marco Family YMCA and says she enjoys serving the community. Submitted
YBlguard2: To address the shortage, certified Marco Y staffers such as aquatic director and chronic disease specialist Hannah Heidenreich sometimes have to chip in with their services. Submitted