Partners aim to prevent drownings of kids out of school due to COVID-19 pandemic--- accidents increasing in warm-weather states
Eugene, Ore., May 7, 2020 - Eugene Family YMCA, Willamalane Park and Recreation District, Eugene Rec and River Road Park & Recreation District launched a Water Watchers Campaign this week to encourage individuals to commit to keeping kids in and around the water safe. It is especially important now that Oregon's weather is warming up and drowning accidents have increased in some warm-weather states as kids stay home from school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Water Watchers Campaign urges individuals to sign a pledge declaring their commitment to watching children in and around pools and other water bodies and responding in the case of an emergency. May is National Water Safety Month.

"Water safety is always a top priority, especially in Oregon where families love to spend time outside--- in the comfort of their own yard or at any one of our state's beautiful swimming holes," said Sabrina Hershey Black, the Eugene Family YMCA's Aquatics Director. "This year is particularly worrisome because coronavirus has kept kids out of school and busy parents are trying to juggle work and parenting. When we pull out kiddie pools and inflatable pools or take trips to nearby ponds, lakes or streams, we need to make sure that children are supervised at all times."

According to the nonprofit Water Smart Tots, drowning deaths in Florida are up 70 percent compared to this same time last year. In Texas, 17 children have drowned in 2020 so far--- already one-fifth of the total drowning deaths for 2019.

Even before coronavirus sent kids home and families seeking ways to get outside without spreading the virus, drowning was the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 2017, drowning claimed the lives of almost 1,000 U.S. children.

"Oregon has so many opportunities to enjoy the water, and safety is the most important consideration when recreating around our waterways," said Craig Smith, Director of City of Eugene Recreation Services. "This Water Watcher pledge supports a variety of other safety-based programs we offer, including swimming lessons, water safety training, canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding and sailing."

The Water Watchers campaign aims to raise awareness of the preventable deaths and reduce the number of incidents this year.

"We're lucky to have so many amazing options for families to access water in our community. But, water access comes with a lot of risk and we feel a responsibility to help promote safety however we can," said Kenny Weigandt, Community Engagement Program Manager for Willamalane. "We're proud to unite with the Eugene Family YMCA, Eugene Rec and River Road Parks and Recreation to participate in the Water Watchers campaign and will specifically promote this to Springfield residents."   

Those who pledge agree that they have a responsibility to keep kids safe in and around water. They pledge to:
  • Actively watch the children in and around water.
  • Keep their eyes on the water. 
  • Avoid distractions like talking on the phone, socializing, or reading while watching children.
  • Keep a phone near water for emergencies. 
  • Remain by the water until relieved by a new water watcher.
  • Be aware of currents, undertows, water temperatures and obstructions in natural water bodies.
  • Require a well-fitting life jacket for children on boats.
"With the weather improving, more and more individuals are going to be utilizing our natural water recreation areas," said Jase Newton, Superintendent of the River Road Park & Recreation District. "If you or your children are enjoying these activities, please be cautious of water currents and fallen debris. Make sure that children are always wearing their life jackets, and be sure to keep them within eyesight at all times. Enjoy the outdoors, and stay safe!"

The Water Watchers pledge can be completed virtually . The first 250 people to sign up receive a Water Watcher sticker.

"The Y has always been at the forefront of water safety by providing a safe environment for families to be in the water together and encouraging kids of all ages to learn to swim," said Eugene Family YMCA CEO Brian Steffen. "The Water Watchers campaign is yet another way we are evolving to meet the needs around water safety, particularly as coronavirus has families seeking ways to avoid people while having fun around the water."

For more information, visit


About the Eugene Family YMCA
The Eugene Family YMCA is one of the region's leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Each year across Lane County, the Y engages more than 18,000 people regardless of age, gender, income or background - to nurture the potential of children, teens and seniors; improve health and well-being; and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. In 2019, the Eugene Family YMCA awarded $464,675 in financial assistance. The YMCA has been serving the Eugene-area since 1887.

About Willamalane Park and Recreation District
Willamalane Park and Recreation District maintains and operates five recreation facilities and 46 parks and natural areas totaling nearly 1,500 acres. Highlights include 10 waterfront areas, 29 miles of hiking and biking trails, 9 turf and 4 synthetic sports fields and 27 playgrounds. Willamalane offers recreation programs to people of all ages and abilities. Created by voters in 1944, Willamalane is a special tax district, separate from the city of Springfield, with its own boundaries. It is governed by a five-member, elected board of directors and managed by a district superintendent. More information is available at

About Eugene Rec
Since 1927, City of Eugene Rec has built social connections and enhanced the wellness and livability of the greater Eugene community. Eugene Rec creates access to transformative activities for youth and adults, leading to growth in confidence, leadership and lifelong success. Eugene Rec programming spans all ages and abilities, with five areas of service: Adaptive, Aquatics, Athletics, Seniors, and Youth and Family. For more info, visit .
About River Road Park & Recreation District
River Road Park & Recreation District's mission is to provide exceptional park and recreation facilities, programs, and services to enhance the livability of the River Road community and the people it serves. Developed by voters in 1955, River Road Park & Recreation District is a special tax district, separate from the City of Eugene. Five elected board members govern the District with management from the Superintendent. District facilities include a gymnastics building, multi-use community center, and an aquatics and fitness center offering programs for people of all ages and abilities.

Media inquires, please contact:

Beth Casper
Marketing & Communications Manager
Eugene Family YMCA
Kenny Weigandt
Community Engagement 
Program Manager

Sarah-Kate Sharkey
Community Engagement Manager
Eugene Rec

Jase Newton
River Road Park and Recreation District

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