By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Long-time USA Swimming corporate partner Phillips 66 has been a sponsor since 1973 and involved in the sport overall for seven decades. Today, Phillips 66 believes they can improve lives through energy, and in that spirit, usaswimming.org is highlighting swimmers of all levels who have benefited from Phillips 66's contribution and chosen to give back to the sport of swimming or to their community.
Is there a better way to give back to your children’s coach and the pool where they learn and train than by donating a $25,000 check for new equipment to make them better and more competitive?
That’s what Vera Weeks of Philadelphia did earlier this summer when her essay submitted as part of Ford Motor Company’s “Random Acts of Fusion” was chosen – with the $25,000 prize going to the organization of her choice – the Salvation Army Kroc Center Aquatics (SAKA) in downtown Philly.
Her essay focused on what SAKA brings and means to Philadelphia and the children that it serves. Renowned coach Jim Ellis, who runs and coaches at SAKA, accepted the check – which will be used to enhance the center’s aquatics and competitive swimming program – in August. SAKA has been in operation since 2010 with Ellis, best known for his work teaching inner-city youth in Philly to swim, as chronicled in the movie “Pride.”
“I first heard of the contest through an email generated by comedian Steve Harvey’s website, which coordinates the Hoodie Awards, an event recognizing neighborhood-based leaders,” Weeks said in an article at www.phillytrib.com.
“The email asked if you had $25,000 to give back to the community, what would you do? I immediately thought about Coach Ellis and the swim team because my two children always spoke very highly of him and the program.”
Ford’s “Random Acts of Fusion” social consumer program is aimed at introducing the Ford Fusion to millions of Americans through a series of events. Weeks submitted her essay in July and learned of her win shortly after that.
Ellis, one of the most well-respected coaches in swimming, has made it his mission over the years to make sure as many young inner-city children have the opportunity to learn about water safety and, if they choose, swim competitively. Many of his swimmers have gone on to earn college scholarships, qualify for various regional and national swim meets as well as the Olympic Trials.
It’s his dedication and devotion to his swimmers and his passion that ultimately motivated Weeks to think of the SAKA and the important work being done there every day.
“The essay wasn’t anything spectacular,” she said. “This is a great program, and what Coach Ellis does for these kids is truly amazing. It feels great that my essay won the contest. I always told Coach Ellis that whatever I can do to help the kids, I will.”
For Ellis, the opportunity to learn to swim goes beyond the pool. He knows the lessons learned – responsibility, structure, time management, sacrifice, etc. – in swimming translate effectively to every day life.
It’s what motivates him to keep working with young kids and helping mold them into productive citizens of the future.
“Having access to swimming programs not only gets at-risk kids off the streets,” Ellis said in the phillytrib.com article. “It inspires them to lead healthy lifestyles and have goals and dreams. SAKA brings in a diverse group of people across the Delaware Valley.
“With the funds received from the donation, I hope to acquire state-of-the-art training equipment, which will allow us to train the team’s 50 swimmers using an electronic monitoring system. We need to be in the game like our competitors are in the game. If we are unable to attain the equipment, I’m hoping to use the funding for scholarships.”
The $25k donation will also help prepare Ellis’ swimmers at SAKA to be competitive for future National meets – including the 2016 Olympic Trials to earn a spot on the next U.S. Olympic team.
“We are continuing to build the program,” Ellis said. “We have young swimmers who have been ranked number one in the country for their age group. My goal is to grow the program to 100 swimmers and continue to help kids reach their dreams. We are currently preparing to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We are committed to giving these young swimmers the best opportunities that we can.”