Josh Project promotes water safetyWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Josh Project will host the inaugural Water Safety Day May 28 as Wanda Butts continues to promote water safety following her son John-Joshua Butts’ drowning in August 2006 at the age of 16.
“My son lives on,” Wanda said. “He lives on in all these other people and in my heart because these children get the opportunity he didn’t get so they won’t drown. Their parents know how important it is their children know how to swim. Nobody told me. If they told me, maybe he wouldn’t have been in the lake on a raft without a life jacket. Since nobody told me, I’m going to tell everybody I can everywhere I go. This means the world to me. This helps me to live. It’s like Josh lives through me through this program. We’re doing something because of Josh’s death, so he didn’t die in vain.”
Wanda started The Josh Project in June 2007 with her daughter Tankeeya Butts. The program aims to educate and empower youth by offering opportunities in the area of water safety.
“It really helps with the loss of my brother,” Tankeeya said. “I almost feel like he’s here swimming along with the kids learning how. Because he drowned, so many other kids are learning how to swim. It’s opened up opportunities to these children they wouldn’t otherwise have. I’m thankful to God we’re able to do this and that the community has stepped up and supported us in the way it has.”
Wanda credits God for giving her the strength to go on and inspiring the creation of The Josh Project.
“Faith is what kept me when I lost my son,” Wanda said. “My belief is what gave me the vision to do what we’re doing now. It’s something to lose your son. I was devastated. I didn’t want to go on. My faith in God and his grace and mercy is the reason we have The Josh Project.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention declared May to be Water Safety Month as part of its initiative to prevent childhood injury. Water Safety Day will feature swimming lessons, scuba diving demonstrations, water safety dummies and a Coast Guard boat to teach boat safety. The event is in partnership with organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the Toledo Sail and Power Squadron, which both made Wanda an honorary member.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is change attitudes in the minority community about swimming and water safety in general,” Tankeeya said. “It has to deal with participation in water-related activities. They don’t do it growing up.”
According to the USA Swimming website, two-thirds of drowning deaths in the United States are minorities. The project’s goal is to change these statistics, and Wanda has worked to identify the causes locally.
“One problem is accessibility,” she said. “There are no pools in the central city and the ones they have aren’t opening. Another reason is a generational problem. My parents didn’t know how to swim and are afraid of the water, so it was embedded in me to be afraid of the water. There’s a fear factor.”
The fear factor is echoed by Christy Burt, whose 8-year-old daughter Miracle learned to swim through The Josh Project.
“I don’t swim very well, so to have my daughter swim well is important,” Burt said. “She enjoys it. It helps her with her confidence because this is something she excels in.”
Miracle, who said she likes doing the backstroke, is joining a swim team this summer.
The Josh Project also aims to educate parents about water safety.
“Research has shown that many children are drowning even though their parent was watching them,” Tankeeya said. “You have to constantly keep an eye on them.”
Wanda wants children and parents everywhere to learn the importance of water safety through The Josh Project. She has already inspired the opening of additional chapters in Norfolk, Va., and Bloomington Hills, Mich.
The Josh Project has also been an inspiration locally. Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who was on the swim team at Woodward High School, awarded the organization a proclamation in recognition of “outstanding achievements that reflect on the well-being and growth of the Toledo community and its citizens.”
For more information or to volunteer for Water Safety Day, visit JoshProject.org or call (419) 973-1383. The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. May 28 in the St. Francis de Sales High School Natatorium, 2323 W. Bancroft St.