Son’s drowning spurs mom to action

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Swim lessons help minority children break cycle.


(CNN) — Wanda Butts lost her teenage son in a drowning accident six years ago, and ever since then she has been working to change a troubling statistic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 drown at a rate almost three times higher than white children in the same age range.

Since 2007, Butts and her nonprofit, the Josh Project, have helped nearly 1,200 children — most of them minorities — learn how to swim.

CNN asked Butts for her thoughts on being chosen as one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.

CNN: What was the reaction when you found out you were a top 10 CNN Hero?

Wanda Butts: Shock and unbelief! I was thinking that this could not be happening to me, just as I felt back on August 6, 2006, when I was told that Josh had drowned.

I never would have thought that anything good would happen from the drowning death of my only son at the age of 16.

I saw nothing but disaster and tragedy from Josh’s drowning. But now I see all of the positive outcomes from his death. Now I can see better what the plan was for my son’s life and death, and mine. His death was so others could have a fuller life and possibly a longer life because of their knowing how to swim and (having) water safety skills.

His death from drowning gave my life meaning because I can now share with others the importance of knowing how to swim and the importance of knowing water safety.

CNN: What do you hope this recognition will mean for the Josh Project?

Butts: I would like (to raise) awareness of our mission and our focus of parents being educated and knowing the importance of their child knowing how to swim and how to be safe in and around water.

I would hope that the public will be more aware about drowning prevention, especially in communities where the drowning statistics are much higher and more likely to happen. Our objective is to change the drowning statistics.

Drowning is preventable if you know the rules. Awareness, education and knowledge is key. That was something I did not have.

CNN: What are some of your goals or plans for the Josh Project?

Butts: To increase enrollment, employ our own teachers and have our own swimming facility so students can practice what they learn in their weekly lessons. And possibly increase lessons to twice a week. We also intend to increase our water safety education classes.

CNN: What do you want people to know most about your work?

Butts: Swimming and water safety education are basic life skills that all should know.

Water is universal. And since our Earth is nearly 70% water and our bodies are 60 to 70% water and swimming is the only sport that could possible save your life, it is very vital for everyone to have water safety skills and know how to swim.

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