The Buffalo City Swim Racers (BCSR) is a unique club that serves the city of Buffalo by providing free swim lessons for families. Head coach Mike Switaski, a former Division III All-America swimmer from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, talks about why he founded BCSR and why his club is so unique.
How long have you been involved in swimming? Talk about your background in swimming.
I have been involved in swimming for 29 years as a swimmer or coach. At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater I was a Division III All-American and have coached for clubs throughout Wisconsin and New York.
Why did you create the Buffalo City Swim Racers?
When I was in college, I use to lifeguard at a waterpark in Milwaukee, WI. Every Wednesday, the park would be rented out to a church in the inner city. The lifeguards knew it as the “Blue Bus.” This bus load of predominantly African American kids would get off the bus, go down the slides into water over their heads and the lifeguards would routinely have to jump in to save a child. A typical Wednesday night would include 15-20 jumps for each lifeguard. The park owner did it for the money and without regard for safety. It was always something that stuck with me. Why couldn’t these kids swim?
Describe the different components of the Buffalo City Swim Racers?
We focus on disadvantaged families but are not exclusive. We don’t rely on family dues because the average annual household income in our program is less than $20,000. Our families simply cannot afford formal swim lessons or the opportunity to be part of a suburban competitive swim program.
We provide pool access, coaching, transportation, academic support, USA Swimming membership, meet fees, suit, cap and goggles to each of our kids.
My board of directors does not consist of parents. It is comprised of community leaders interested in assisting the program and former swimmers looking to give back to the sport that made a difference in their lives.
Why is your club different than other clubs?
Our program is completely free! We rely on donations, grant-writing and fundraising. If a person would like to make a donation they can go to www.buffaloracers.org and click on the “Donate” option under the heading.
We collaborate with schools to offer the program as an afterschool initiative. Buffalo Public Schools has been scrutinized for a 47% graduation rate. We want to be a support program in the Superintendent’s turnaround plan. We have a kind of a la carte menu we offer. We meet with school officials to identify their needs. Swimming is our primary service, then the schools can also explore the option of homework assistance, tutoring, and/or transportation. We have a relationship with a local tutoring agency and bus company that makes these opportunities possible.
We have buses that pick the kids up after school and deliver them to the pool, if their school does not have one, then deliver them back to school. The majority of our families rely on public transportation, so we try to facilitate the issue by keeping things centralized in their neighborhood. We work to remove the barriers to swimming and its benefits for children in all communities.
Since the families do not have any financial accountability to the program, we have academic and school attendance standards that allow a child to stay eligible for the program. Kids are randomly selected. Once selected, they must show progress toward an 80% GPA in their first year with us while maintaining 90% attendance in the classroom. In their second year with us, all grades need to be above an 80% while the attendance standard is a constant.
Our club consists of over 90% underrepresented populations throughout the city of Buffalo, over 80% single parent households and over 90% low income families. Through positive reinforcement, BCSR has seen increased test scores among participating swimmers while teaching time management skills and self control, building self esteem, teaching cooperation and instilling discipline that overflow to other areas of schoolwork.
How have you gained community support?
Our Board of Directors and I attend meetings in the community with school administrators or government officials. We work with our families, host BBQs, meet with local business leaders, foundations, etc. We pride ourselves on being active and visible while sharing the recognition of the children's success. We also collaborate with graduate classes from local colleges to survey our families about the services we offer and how we can improve.
What do you do annually to garner support for your club?
As a young program, we have begun by hosting events for our partners while including them in the kid’s successes. We have held a thank you dinner and provided updates to our partners and supporters as often as possible. As we continue to grow, we ask these partners for help in expanding our network. In return, when we have a need, we notify our network of partners. What typically happens is, if they can’t help, they know someone that can. As the face of the organization, I usually meet with that person, bring them into our network and our group of supporters gets larger exponentially. The network has helped find donated office space in downtown Buffalo, receive pro-bono marketing services, write grants, find equipment and much more.
Please talk about the uniqueness of your club board.
Since we do not rely on family dues, our structure is more like a foundation seeking funding, so we pursue people from various backgrounds that have special skills such as local companies executives, educators, entrepreneurs, communication experts and leaders in our community. We have an active, working Board that includes 9 separate committees.
Do you have the support of your LSC?
We utilize the Niagara Swimming Outreach Membership as well as their Meet Fee and Suit Reimbursement Scholarships. We are less than a year old, so the entire LSC has not been introduced to us yet. We have had TWST in Orchard Park, NY assist us as well as local individuals with Niagara LSC ties.
In part II Mike talks about the mistakes some coaches make when reaching out to different communities that they are not familiar with and what swimming will look like in the future.