Water safety camp teaches the basics in Stamford

STAMFORD — Multi-colored rubber swim caps bobbed in the air as several dozen children practiced taking careful jumps into the pool.

The smell of chlorine was heavy in the air at the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford where many children this week experienced some of their earliest exposure to water.

That’s the goal of “ZAC Camp,” a four-day water-safety program for 110 club members between the ages of 5 and 9.

The camp was brought to Stamford by the Greenwich-based ZAC Foundation, established by Karen and Brian Cohn after their 6-year-old son, Zachary Archer Cohn, drowned in their backyard swimming pool 10 years ago. Since 2010, two years after the boy’s death, the foundation has been working to bring ZAC Camps to children around the country. After partnering with the Boys and Girls Club in 2012, the ZAC Foundation now brings its water safety camps to more than 20 cities nationwide.

The camp returned to the city for a second year one week after the family of a Chinese college student filed a $35 million lawsuit against the Stamford YMCA where the 22-year-old nearly drowned last October.

“We really look at communities that have a higher-than-usual drowning rate and children who wouldn’t be able to access instruction otherwise,” ZAC Foundation Executive Director Megan Ferraro said. “We want to go into communities where we know this is a significant problem…they’re learning how to be safe around water, how to tread, how to float.”

According to data from the foundation, drowning is the main cause of accidental death for children between the ages of 1 and 4. The risk is higher for people of color, with drowning rates three times those of white children due to factors like generational fear of water and lack of access to instruction.

ZAC Camp is more than just learning the basics of water safety within the confines of the pool. Outside the club, the tooting horn of a police car pierced the air of gaggles of campers clamored around for a chance to play with the wheel. Nearby, another officer showed off one of the department’s K-9s as a second component of the camp where students meet first responders to help them forge better community relationships.

“Our goal is to get the kids familiar with the police department,” Anna Edwards, school resource officer at Westhill High School, said as she supervised the children mobbing her vehicle in excitement. “We want kids to see an up-close-and-personal view of things the public doesn’t get a hold of.”

A third group of campers were inside for classroom instruction where they learned the “ABCD’s” of swim safety — adult supervision, barriers around the pool, classes and drain safety.