Omar & Safety Around Water
Omar Zaldana, Senior Healthy Lifestyles Director at the
Nu’uanu YMCA recalls the moment a 4 year old girl came up to him with her
painting. It had a stick figure and a purple triangle next to it. He asked her,
since he was supposed to be the stick figure, what did the triangle represent?
Her reply, “that’s your tent, that’s where you live!” In that moment, Omar
realized she thought he lived in a tent just like her.
A recent economic report from the Hawaii County shows a steady incline of homelessness among families and children under the ages of 18. Omar reflects on the Y’s Mission, Focus, and Cause stating, “it is our social responsibility to help strive for equity.”
It all started last fall with funds provided by the Y of the USA for the Safety Around Water for Highly Mobile Children program. Designed and implemented to engage and educate under-served communities, specifically youth, on the importance of water safety.
Statistics prove that minorities, especially those of lower social-economical status, have the highest risk of drowning. “This is an opportunity to take youth out of that unfortunate situation and show them that there’s more. My hope is that by going through this process we can draw attention to the need. And set the standard higher as we continue impacting our community,” says Omar.
The program meets once a month and has evolved into two separate pickups; the emergency shelter and transitional housing. While the program has now expanded and seen greater consistency in attendance, the process has had it’s own challenges from the start.
“It was difficult to get it off the ground because unlike other programs, the kids that you work with one day may literally be gone the next. Unfortunately with this type of demographic the conditions they live in make them very vulnerable and skeptical of trust. Part of us building that trust and accountability was by visiting on days that the program isn’t running, that way we can build a relationship, not just with the children but with the parents.” Omar shares that this step was crucial and believes to have been the root of the program's growth.
Although the program focuses on water safety, it has since partnered with the Keiki Outreach Initiative (KOI) from the Atherton YMCA to provide a variety of activities. After swimming a healthy breakfast is provided; followed by crafts, science projects, team building, and confidence boosting games. One of the KOI volunteers points out that “It’s the kids that are really excited. No one realizes the little details and how big of an impact it makes.”
Youth participating in the Safety Around Water for Highly Mobile Children join this legacy of aquatic accomplishments and become one stroke closer to being more confident, one kick closer to being more independent, and one breath closer to being a part of their own community.
Why the Y: We’re For Equity and a Cause.