Monday, March 14, 2011

Teens dive into an undersea world

ST. THOMAS - Three years ago, eight teenagers could barely swim. On Saturday, they donned scuba gear and dropped below the surface of Brewers Bay for the first time.

The students - mostly members of the Savan Boys Club - learned to swim, then snorkel, before they moved on to scuba diving thanks to One Swim Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the skills and awareness of the aquatic environment for young Virgin Islanders.

On Saturday, the students surrounded scuba tanks and learned to assemble the gear that would provide their underwater life support.

They listened attentively to master trainer Joey Smith, soaking up his instruction before putting it to use.

Smith spoke with pride about the 40 students who have taken part in the program in the past three years. Many of them have learned to swim, with some continuing to snorkeling, skin diving and scuba programs.

It didn't cost the students a cent.

Smith said the program shows how much students can learn from a very small investment in money.

The program operates on about $4,000 each year, he said, and relies heavily upon donated time and equipment.

"Every kid on the island should be able to swim and know about the aquatic environment," Smith said. "Once they understand what is there, it's like a whole energy shift."

Smith said that, after entering the program, his students are very self-motivated. He spoke with pride about the way his students work as a team, educating and helping one another.

Before earning the chance to learn to scuba dive, the students passed rigorous standards in swimming. They also learn about marine biology and CPR.

Smith said the classes, which are held every Saturday at Brewers Bay, could be expanded but that a lack of funding restricts the possible growth of the program.

He said that One Swim is different from many other programs because it is year-round.

"I think that's special," Smith said. "The students learn that through your own personal effort, it's how you're going to succeed in life."

Savan Boys Club President Dorsey Chinnery and board member Melvin Norman worked with some of the students at the beach Sunday. They said the swimming program has made an impact on the students.

"I think it's a big help for them," Norman said. "Once you learn to do something it gives you confidence.

Smith said two students of the swimming program have already landed jobs in the marine industry that would have previously been unavailable to them.

He said at this time, the program needs more help to reach more students. Smith thanked Coki Beach Dive Club, Underwater Safaris and Admirality Dive Shop for lending gear and support.

"We want more people to come into the swimming program," he said. "For a little money, we get a lot of bang for our buck."

Anyone interested in contributing to the program, either with donations of time, money, swim, scuba or snorkel gear, can contact One Swim at 998-0477.

Thanks to Virgin Island Daily News

Kathy Dowsett

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