Woodinville Rotary Club has received the national 2013 Rotary Water Safety Advocate Award presented by the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
Woodinville is among Rotary clubs across the U.S. to have introduced the Josh the Otter campaign to impress upon families and young children the importance of being with an adult whenever around any source of water.
More than 700 kindergarten and first graders at Kokanee, Woodin and Woodmoor elementary schools “met our mascot Josh the baby otter in June and pledged to be safe around water,” according to Erv DeSmet Jr., one of the Woodinville Rotary’s Josh Team leaders.
Rotarians made a half hour presentation at the schools which included a reading from a Josh the Otter storybook, a song, the pledge “to be safe around water” and a chance to meet and greet a life-sized Josh the Otter mascot. Rotary sent each child home with a copy of the storybook, the song on a CD, a coloring book and a “sticker” to catch the eye of an adult at home.
“We would like to reach out to more schools next spring,” DeSmet said. “If ever there were a region in this country where water safety is important it would be the Puget Sound.”
Kari Stokes, a Woodmoor kindergarten teacher, coordinated the presentations over two days at her school. Her reaction to the program: “Many of the teachers reported working on the coloring book in class and two of the special education classrooms talked about how it was a great launch for a conversation about water safety among their parent groups. The kids in my class were thrilled to receive the CD ... they loved sharing it with their families and showing them how they could float. The timing couldn’t have been better with summer swimming events so close.
The story and song encourage the children to learn to float.
The Foundation was started four years ago by a Lincoln, Nebraska, couple whose adopted son, Joshua, drowned in the family swimming pool.
No more than six weeks had elapsed after the tragedy when Kathy and Blake Collingsworth had established the memorial foundation to spread the word of the importance of being safe around water. The emphasis is on the fact children can get into trouble around water and in a split second can be in a life-threatening situation, DeSmet noted.
Rotarians Steve Dolan, John Hughes, Greg Riggs and Max Zellweger learned of the program while attending a Rotary International Convention in New Orleans in the spring of 2011. The club enthusiastically adopted the program and set out to reach more than 1,000 children with the message. The club has also made presentations at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Seattle’s B.F. Day elementary school in the Fremont area, the Northshore YMCA summer program and at elementary schools in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho during a district Rotary conference in May of this year.
“We hope the other 51 Rotary clubs in the Puget Sound area will learn about Josh and how their involvement would have such a positive outcome in the way of community service,” DeSmet added. Accidental drowning is the most prevalent cause of death among children from infant to 14 years, he said.
DeSmet said the club’s Otter Spotter team also includes Tana Baumler, Dianne Silvestre, Anne Waters, Gordy Green, Jeff Lair, Bob Platte, Jeff Samuelson, Eric Greenwood and Carol Lee.
Teacher Stokes said it was particularly meaningful to have first grader Taylen Law on the team. “They loved having an “otter spotter” who was their age,” she said. Taylen is Baumler’s granddaughter and attended each of the nine sessions at the three Woodinville area schools.
To continue the club’s financial commitment to the Josh project, “we will need the community’s support at our next fund raising event,” explained Hughes, the club’s director for fund raising. Rotary will hold its 23rd annual dinner and auction October 19 at the Tulalip Resort and Spa.
The theme is “It’s a W.R.A.P.”, engaging partners in a private-public collaboration to cover unmet needs in the schools and throughout the community.