Orange, Calif., Oct. 26, 2012 – Eleven-year-old Daniela Ramirez didn't know how to swim. And learning wasn't really an option when swim lessons and access to a pool were unattainable due to a lack of funds. That all changed when the sixth grader from Huntington Beach heard about St. Joseph Hospital's SWIM4ME program.
SWIM4ME is a swim club designed to give kids just like Daniela not only an outlet for exercise, but also to improve children's overall health, self-confidence and academic success. The first of its kind in Southern California, the all-inclusive program provides the necessary swim equipment, access to coaches and facilities from the Golden West College swim team and transportation to and from school. In addition to the health and social benefits of being on a swim team, the program is also meant to combat one of the nation's most pressing epidemics – childhood obesity.
"Through the years I've seen a growing trend of childhood obesity at a concerning pace," said Connie Bartlett, DO, a pediatrician with St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group and the founder of SWIM4ME. "I've seen a lot of programs around health and fitness, but not a lot that meet the unique needs of children."
The program is open to children enrolled in Title 1 schools, like Vista View Elementary in Huntington Beach, where Daniela attends. The students meet for an hour every weekday for an entire year. The group of children currently enrolled in the program – most of which had no prior swim experience – performs drills just as a club swim team would during practice. After only three months of training, they have already transformed from a group of inexperienced swimmers into a "team."
"My favorite part is getting to learn new things," Daniela said. "I've become really good in the pool now and I trust myself more."
Dr. Bartlett said the idea for SWIM4ME came to her after assessing the needs of children in the Huntington Beach area. Through her medical practice, she has seen the effects of childhood obesity first hand and quickly realized that a year-round fitness program should be available to all kids – not just those who can afford it, and not just during the school year. Dr. Bartlett hopes that the program's multi-pronged approach will prove much more effective in the short term and will encourage sustainability through learned behavior in the long term.
Irasu Ramirez, Daniela's mother, said Daniela has always been active, but was looking for something new to keep her motivated in her level of physical activity. "Swimming is something she's always been interested in, but we haven't had the resources to pursue it," she said.
The program has given Daniela a new routine to look forward to every day and even given her more endurance and strength for some of her other interests, like soccer.
SWIM4ME also partners with El Viento, an academic outreach and enrichment program that recruits elementary school children and helps keep them on track all the way through high school. Dr. Bartlett said that through this existing partnership and others, she hopes to bring SWIM4ME to even more swim leagues and schools in the future.
"Without the funding we provide, these children would never have an opportunity to be involved in a program like this," Dr. Bartlett said. "I hope this can serve as another tool to combat obesity and help kids to learn to live a healthy lifestyle."
About St. Joseph Health – St. Joseph Hospital
Founded in 1929, St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California, is a nationally recognized, 525-bed, not-for-profit Catholic hospital dedicated to extending the healing ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. Fully accredited by The Joint Commission and designated as a Magnet hospital for nursing excellence, St. Joseph Hospital's reputation for clinical excellence and compassionate, family-centered care draws patients from all over the United States. This is one reason why St. Joseph Hospital was named one of the top 10 hospitals in the Los Angeles/Orange County area by U.S. News & World Report. With a highly recognized 1,000-member medical staff and more than 3,800 support staff, St. Joseph Hospital is home to more than 75 specialty programs, including The Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment, the Heart and Vascular Center and a nationally acclaimed Orthopedics program that has been ranked among the top 50 in the nation by
U.S. News & World Report. Equally important is St. Joseph Hospital's dedication to caring for the medically underserved through health education programs, a free-standing medical and dental clinic, and mobile health vans. St. Joseph Hospital depends on philanthropic support from the community to carry out its mission. These efforts are coordinated through the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation.