By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been five years since Tara and Dwayne Cuff received the devastating news that their eleven-year-old daughter Trava drowned in a swimming accident.
“Trava had just started learning how to swim,” recalls Tara. “She loved being in the water.”
The Cuffs learned that their family is not alone in their grief. The US Centers for Disease Control report that an average of 3,500 people die each year from drowning, and one out of every five is under the age of 14.
To tackle those gruesome statistics, the Cuffs have started Dolphin Eleven, a nonprofit that advocates for swimming proficiency.
Last year, the group teamed up with the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA to provide free swim lessons for inner-city kids with limited access to a pool.
“It’s amazing to see the kids learning how to swim, but to also see the faces of the parents who were apprehensive on the first day,” says Dwayne. He and Tara can be found most Saturdays sitting in the stands at the Abington High School pool, watching their eight-year-old son, Dwayne Jr., and more than 20 other “Dolphin 11” kids learn how to swim.
“The blessing is, two weeks after our daughter passed he wanted to get back into the water,” says Tara of Dwayne Jr. “He wasn’t afraid.”
She says being able to swim is now mandatory within her family, and she’s hoping that rule spreads to others. The Abington YMCA is helping to carry that message by making the program affordable and accessible to kids in urban areas.
“It was a no-brainer,” says Sean Elliott, group vice-president of Freedom Valley YMCA, about the request he received from the Cuffs to start the program. “They wanted to have a class with eleven kids. We said we can do better. So now we offer the classes for free to 28 kids, and bus them to the pool. When the class is over, they get a free membership to the YMCA.”
The program helps more than just children — it helps parents, too.
“We motivate each other,” says Charlene Crosby, who attends the weekly classes with her six-year-old daughter, Charlize. “I already knew how to swim but I wanted to critique my skills.”
“I think it’s great, and I really like when she swims with me,” says Charlize, who adds that splashing in the water is her favorite thing to do. “I didn’t know how to swim when I came here, but I know how to swim now. And I’m afraid of the deep end, so it’s nice my mom can watch me.”
The Cuffs say the hope the Dolphin 11 program helps break the generational fear of swimming and, in the process, it honors Trava’s legacy.
“I think she would be proud,” says Tara.
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