I read the Enquirer piece (‘More than just a pool’) about the lack of swimming options for city of Cincinnati residents. In light of the pandemic and our civil unrest, the pool offered a place where kids were free from quarantine of another kind. Did our city budget preclude more pools from opening this summer?
I soon learned opening or not opening pools was not entirely due to lack of funding or coronavirus. More so, there was a lack of lifeguards to keep kids safe.
In the mid-2000’s, local attorney Stan Chesley rallied his donor base to help fund operations of the city’s public pools, as well as donating his own money. While his legacy was tainted, didn’t we have the ability in our community to do more than wring our hands?
I emailed Daniel Bettts, Executive Director of Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC), who enlightened me on the unopened pools. “Believe me, as a young, black kid growing up in the south side of Chicago, I know how important pools are.” The city budget was not deterring management from opening more options, thereby giving greater access to the kids. It was a mix of everything else.
Prior to February, ninety lifeguards had committed to return to CRC. When the pandemic struck, CRC furloughed 100% of their staff until they could return to safe operation mode. Once back at work, they needed to adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, which included extensive cleaning and a reservation system. They needed to contact lifeguards and add up the number of returnees. How much time did they have to accomplish this? Summer wasn’t going to wait forever. They managed to institute new procedures in a few short weeks, when pools across the country wouldn’t consider the option.
CRC also lent their expertise as consultants to organizations, such as 3CDC’s Zielger Park and various regional pools, for how to reopen with the safety of all in mind. But once they established their processes, CRC found they needed more lifeguards. “You know what you can do?” Betts asked me. “Spread the word about lifeguards.”
CRC is in a position unlike many — in need of new hires. While our country’s unemployment numbers remain high and teens bemoan the fact they cannot find work, Cincinnati Recreation Center is hiring lifeguards and pool managers. One can follow this link to find out more. https://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/recreation/programs/aquatics-home/aquatics-jobs/lifeguard-jobs/. The city is encouraging me to open more, if we can do it slowly with the right staff,” Betts said.
As a youngster in a family of five kids, the public swimming pool kept me (and my mother) sane. It was a world where I didn’t have to be anybody or be with anybody. Just me. And the water. In my teens, my girlfriends and I flirted with older lifeguards, and I became Red Cross-certified though never worked in that role. And as an adult, along with my children, I always had access to pools through private memberships or the good will of a neighbor.
We all need these small oases in the heart of our communities. If twirling a whistle and keeping an eye on squealing kids who are determined to live life isn’t one’s version of sweet summertime, the Cincinnati Recreation Center Foundation, which supplements the services of CRC, is accepting donations toward additional funding. (https://www.cincyrecfoundation.org/).
Our city needs lifeguards. We need young people to step up for young people, and adults to step up too. And our recreation centers need additional funding to provide more oversight of current guidelines and ensure the health of our young people.
My mother always left a nickel or dime on the counter for each of us to buy snacks at the pool. Hiring lifeguards and funding swim lessons cost more. But we can all leave a little time or money on the counter to help kids enjoy summer the same way we did.
Annette Januzzi Wick is a writer who makes her home in Over-the-Rhine.