RIVERVIEW – As a financial adviser, Christian Beiter knows all too well the need to save a dollar.
But since becoming a member of the YMCA Camp Cristina board of directors in 2012, he has also become aware of the need to save lives.
“The statistics are scary,” said the father of a 9-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter. “Florida leads the nation in the number of children who accidentally drown, and Hillsborough County leads the state.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, the number of children under age 5 who drown in Florida would fill four preschool classrooms. With a drowning rate of 7.29 per 100,000 children, Florida leads the nation in the number of drowning deaths for children age 1 to 4, according to the state.
The statistics are equally bleak for older children in Florida. The department reports that 2.67 out of 100,000 children ages 1 to 14 drown annually in the state, highest in the country for that age range. Oklahoma is next with 2.48 per 100,000.
“It’s amazing to me that so many children drown when it can be prevented so easily by teaching children to swim,” Beiter said. “I grew up at the beach in Virginia, and there was no way we didn’t know how to swim at an early age.”
However, as a member of the Camp Cristina board, Beiter said he frequently encounters parents whose children haven’t learned the skill.
“That’s astonishing to me,” he said.
Beiter said he was unaware of the high incidence of childhood drownings until he was recruited by fellow Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce member Jill Andrew to Camp Cristina’s board.
A longtime proponent of swimming lessons for children, Andrew led an effort last summer to provide swim lessons at Camp Cristina for children of low-income working parents who couldn’t afford to pay for swim lessons.
Through that initiative, 100 children from the Bayou Crossing apartment complex in Riverview learned to swim.
“We had one little girl who was deathly afraid of the water and wouldn’t even put her foot in the pool,” Beiter said. “But, by the end of the summer, she couldn’t wait to get in the pool. Her parents were amazed.”
Realizing the need to provide swim lessons to low-income children, Beiter joined the 2015 Riverview honorary mayor’s race to raise funds to subsidize swim lessons. To his surprise, he won the title, raising $2,964.13 for swim lessons at Camp Cristina.
“It was rewarding to know that we may be preventing a child from drowning,” he said. “Camp Cristina is very much committed to helping the kids of the community. (Its) goal is to turn no child away.”
With the success of the pilot program with Bayou Crossing, Camp Cristina’s board of directors plans to expand last year’s effort to provide swimming lessons to underprivileged children.
“We’re now including swim lessons in the regular summer camp program,” Beiter said. “Before this year, swim lessons were an additional charge.”
Beiter’s efforts to promote awareness of Camp Cristina and the need to teach children to swim through his role as honorary mayor didn’t go unnoticed
At the Tampa Metropolitan YMCA’s annual Community Impact Dinner in February, Beiter was named Volunteer of the Year for Camp Cristina, an honor that went to his mentor, Jill Andrew, the previous year.
“I was really surprised,” Beiter said. “There are a lot of people deserving of the award.”
A graduate of the University of South Florida and certified financial planner with Preservation 1st Financial Group, Beiter and his wife, Melanie, moved to Riverview in 2002 and just recently relocated to Valrico.
Beiter divides his spare time between his duties on the Camp Cristina board and as coach of the South Shore Sharks youth football team.
Swim lessons are available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during Camp Cristina’s summer camp sessions, which run from June 8 to Aug. 13. The YMCA camp is at 9840 Balm-Riverview Road, Riverview.
For information, call (813) 677-8400.
Freelance writer D’Ann Lawrence White can be reached at [email protected]