August 05, 2019
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
Through a program spearheaded by the Newburgh Armory Unity Center and Mount Saint Mary College, dozens of local children are enjoying free swimming lessons on Saturday afternoons in the Mount’s pool. The program is overseen by Mount alumni Valerie and Darren Bryant.
Thanks to a new program spearheaded by two dedicated Mount Saint Mary College alumni, dozens of local children from the Newburgh Armory Unity Center are learning to swim on Saturday afternoons at the Mount’s William and Elaine Kaplan Recreation Center.
The lessons, for children ages 4 to 12, take place over the course of eight weeks and are structured after the American Red Cross’s renowned swimming program. Certified instructors – including volunteers from the Armory, the Mount’s swim team, and other local institutions – are the backbone of the year-round program.
The children are students at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, a local organization that aims to eradicate poverty through education. Each young swimmer must take at least one enrichment program at the Armory on Saturday morning before heading to the Mount’s pool. There is no cost for either the swimming lessons or the classes at the Armory.
Husband and wife team Valerie Bryant MBA ’98 and Darren Bryant ’95, coordinators of the program and natives of Newburgh, say that teaching kids how to swim isn’t just for fun – it’s giving them a skill that could save their lives.
Valerie notes that according to a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Memphis, 64 percent of African American children and 45 percent of Latino children lack sufficient swimming skills, compared to only 40 percent of their Caucasian counterparts. That’s why the family feels a deep responsibility to increase diversity in swimming, a sport they hold dear to their hearts.
“You want to make sure that all kids are comfortable in the water,” said Darren. “If they learn to swim early, the water is their friend.”
Valerie added that she wants the children to “learn the basics, so you can go on vacation or go to your friend’s house and be comfortable if there’s a pool around. A whole new world will open up you, and you’ll be safer and more confident.”
The new program’s volunteer instructors have more than 80 combined years of swim experience, said Valerie.
“We try to get all local volunteers; instructors the kids can look up to and ask questions about how they got started in swimming and their experiences in high school and college,” she said. “They can relate to these kids.”
The Bryant family, left to right: Valerie Bryant MBA ’98; Jordyn Bryant; Darren Bryant ’95; and Josh Bryant.
Both Valarie and Darren hope that they can spark a love of swimming for the children of the Newburgh Armory: “Ultimately, it would be great to continue swimming into high school and college, and even beyond,” Valerie said. “Hopefully some of these kids will love the sport like my family does.”
It was through their children that the Bryants got into swimming. Darren and Valerie have been involved swim parents for more than a dozen years, starting when their son Josh began swimming back in 2007. Josh now swims at the University of Connecticut and has set several records there and at his high school, Newburgh Free Academy. Their daughter, Jordyn, 13, is a club swimmer with the Newburgh Sharks and a high school varsity swimmer with Newburgh Free Academy.
For years, the Bryant family has wanted to create a local program to introduce more minorities to the world of swimming. And it would be a chance meeting between Josh and Armory founder William Kaplan, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from Newburgh, N.Y., that would give the family that chance.
One day, Kaplan came across Josh giving a private swim lesson. Afterward, Kaplan discussed with him the possibility of doing swim lessons for local children through a partnership between the Armory and the Mount. Once their son told his parents of the opportunity, the Bryants jumped on the chance to oversee the swim program they had always envisioned.
As the first sessions have already proven successful, the Bryants have plans to expand the program. Currently, each of the two Saturday sessions have 15 students each, for a total of 30 participants. With a waiting list of about 100 kids, the Bryants hope to add another session as soon as it is viable, bringing the total participants to 50 children per eight week cycle.
They’ve also gotten requests to teach adults to swim as well, something they would love to implement in the future. “If the parents know how to swim, then they’re most likely going to teach their children how to swim,” noted Valerie.
The new swim program is far from the first time the Bryants have volunteered in their community. Valerie is a past board member of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Newburgh, a current board member of Kiwanis of Newburgh, and part of the Lap4Life Foundation. Darren has supported Boys Varsity and Newburgh Sharks as their volunteer photographer for the past six years.
And now, the couple hopes to keep the new swim program going for years to come.
The Newburgh Armory has been changing young lives since 2010. From accessible literacy courses to helping children explore career paths, the Armory hosts a variety of educational programs. More than 500 students a week and their parents receive instruction on a variety of topics.
For more information about the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, visit www.newburgharmory.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 845-245-4035.