Voting for ‘CNN Hero’ ends Nov. 28, local woman among finalistsWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Local woman Wanda Butts could win more than a quarter of a $1 million for the program she started if she is voted as the “CNN Hero of the Year.” Her own hero is her son Josh, who drowned in 2006.
The tragedy inspired Butts to start The Josh Project in 2007. More than 1,000 children have participated in the program, which teaches children and their parents about swimming and water safety.
“I didn’t want people to have to suffer like I suffered or am suffering, like I will the rest of my life,” Butts said.
A young woman at Butts’ church nominated her to be a part of “CNN Heroes.” There are 10 nominees and the winner will be revealed at 9 p.m. Dec. 2 on CNN. People can vote 10 times per day until Nov. 28 at heroes.cnn.com.
If Butts wins she will use the $250,000 grant to open her own aquatic center, although she will need a partner, she said. She will also receive $50,000 for being one of the 10 finalists.
“I have a vision and a dream of The Josh Project having our own aquatic complex, where we have an Olympic-sized pool enclosed and other aquatic information,” Butts said. Currently, The Josh Project operates from St. Francis de Sales High School on Saturdays.
Butts said she was not exposed to swimming growing up.
“For me not being around the water, I didn’t do any of that. I did not know of the fact that my son or all children should know how to be safe around water. All children should know how to swim,” Butts said.
“My son Josh hadn’t had a swimming lesson and hadn’t been taught water safety because his mother, myself, I was never introduced to swimming and water safety.”
At 16, Josh was rafting on Bird Lake in Michigan when he drowned.
The fatal drowning rate of African-American children from 5 to 14 is about three times that of white children and nearly 80 percent of those who drown are male, according to the Center for Disease Prevention.
For a $10 registration fee, children in The Josh Project receive four 30-minute lessons. The project also now offers 45-minute lessons for adults at a fee.
Butts said she loves seeing children learn to swim and that it often takes time and several sessions.
“Once they get it, that’s really the thing. That makes me very happy. It’s like they’re all my children. I like to hug them and I like to know their names. We’re kind of like a family in The Josh Project,” she said.
Kathryn Moore, who serves as program manager, enrolled her two daughters in the project about two years ago.
“The Josh Project (TJP), Inc. is of the utmost importance to me. The Butts are like extended family. I believe wholeheartedly in the mission of TJP, Inc. as my children are learning an invaluable skill that could save their lives or the lives of those around them. Drowning is preventable and I can appreciate how Wanda Butts turned tragedy into triumph through The Josh Project, Inc.,” Moore said in an email.
To learn more, visit www.joshproject.org.