Free swimming lessons to keep kids afloat for a lifetime

child at swimming lessons
A partnership between Community Offshore Wind and YMCA will provide free swimming lessons to thousands of Brooklyn children.

A partnership between Community Offshore Wind and YMCA will provide free swimming lessons to thousands of Brooklyn K-3 children, an experience that can onboard them in adulthood to careers as turbine technicians, welders, and electricians.

“In order to work in the industry offshore, baseline training and safety certification is required, and a piece of that is knowing how to swim,” said Daniel Sieger, head of development at Community Offshore Wind. “So working with the YMCA, working in disadvantaged communities and making sure that these kids learn how to swim at that young age is a key factor in future workforce development to make sure that these opportunities are available for them.”

At a 2022 federal auction, Community Offshore Wind — a partnership between global energy developer RWE and utility operator National Grid to build offshore wind projects in the Northeast — secured a lease area off the coast of New York and New Jersey. The project will bring $530 million of private investment in New York State, including $11 million for the swimming lessons.

“A partnership like this is huge in order to allow us to be able to deliver free swim lessons to those communities where they need it and where we didn’t have the funding to do it,” said Kyle Stewart, Executive Director of the Alliance of New York State YMCAs.

wind turbine
An offshore wind project will bring millions in funding for New York State, including for swimming lessons.

Since COVID, the YMCA has faced budgetary constraints that have eliminated free swimming lessons in many of its branches statewide. That’s especially troubling since drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional death for children ages 5 to 14 in New York City (vehicle crashes are first), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Community Offshore Wind’s project breaks ground in 2028 and should be running by 2030. The wind farm, more than 60 miles south of Long Island, is expected to operate for more than 30 years.

“The kids being born today and who are in kindergarten are the ones who are going to be our turbine technicians 20 years from now,” said Sieger. “And so that’s why we see this as such an important investment opportunity that not only benefits the community but really lays the groundwork for the workforce that will work on our project for decades to come.”

Workers on the project will show up at a port (location to be determined) and board a crew transfer vessel (CTV) to take them to the wind facility, 45 minutes out into the ocean. For larger projects, some technicians would stay on a hotel vessel for a week or more. The facility will generate 1.3 gigawatts of energy, enough to power about 500,000 homes.

“If you’re a kid growing up in the Brooklyn area, you start your career with our swimming lessons and in 20 years you become a turbine tech and we’d take you out to the lease area to do your work,” said Sieger. The swimming lessons program will last for five years.

Stewart is optimistic that the swimming lessons can also keep Brooklyn communities afloat.

“If these kids learn how to swim, maybe they go to work for Offshore Wind, and before that maybe they also become a lifeguard. We need lifeguards in the YMCA.”

Find more information about Community Offshore Wind.