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.
The goal to create responsible as well as talented young swimmers who are a credit to society is a prominent element of the mission statement of the Cougar Aquatic Team (CAT) in Middletown, Conn.
By providing high quality training for age group, senior and elite swimmers, emphasizing physical, social and emotional development, the team, founded in 1985 and sponsored by the Haddam-Killingworth Recreation Department, is committed to excellence and is dedicated to empowering their student athletes to be champions in and out of the water.
With this in mind, and with a nearby community shelter in need of essential, everyday items for those it serves, team members made good on this mission by participating in a club-wide drive to provide 40 health kits during the Christmas season.
Kits consisted of toothbrushes, toothpaste, washcloths, deodorant, combs, shampoos and tissues and were donated to the Eddy Shelter – an emergency homeless haven for single adult men and women in Middlesex County – the week before Christmas.
The shelter’s mission is to provide leadership in identifying and promoting innovative solutions to ending homelessness. Located on the grounds of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, it can house 30 adults but serve many more in various other ways.
“This is the first time CAT volunteered at the Eddy Shelter, and I learned about the shelter’s needs when the company where I work volunteered time painting, installing tile floor, landscaping and painting and maintaining the parking lot there during the United Way Day of Caring this past September,” said Susan R. Waide, who organized the two-week drive along with fellow CAT parents Patricia Mathews, Karen Rutledge and Michele Mergy as members of the team’s community service and fundraising committee.
“Everyone on the team chipped in to help, including our 67 swimmers and their parents. I asked the shelter what they needed, and they told me about the health kits.”
With the help of team members and other parents, committee members sent emails to team families and posted flyers in and around the gym and pool at Haddam-Killingworth High School to promote the drive. They set out bins to collect the items during swim practices.
Waide said swimmers purchased, collected, sorted and assembled the health kit items in gallon-sized bags, and once the collection period was over, team members gathered after practice one evening to assemble the kits. A team parent delivered them to the Eddy Shelter on behalf of the team.
She added that once the project got rolling, team members and their families jumped on board and supported it right away. The team contributions helped the Eddy Shelter to fulfill its own mission of meeting basic needs of those it serves.
“They loved the idea,” Waide said. “It was fun to collect the items and put them in the bags. It was a great community service project since everyone could work on it.”
Based on the positive response from the swim team and family members, Waide said she expects this partnership with Eddy Shelter to continue as an annual holiday service project.
They may even expand it by hosting a “collection day” locally on a weekend to get more donations from the community at large as opposed to the team families and/or people that use the pool facility.
“We are looking into a spring community service project – something where the team members can really physically work together and see the immediate results from their team effort,” Waide said. “We hope to do at least three community service projects each year. We are in the process of identifying them now.”
With a few weeks having passed since the project was completed and the kits were delivered, Waide said she is still hearing good buzz from the team and family members about the experience and how they “get” the reason behind the drive.
“It was a great experience for the swimmers,” she said. “They realized that the basic things we take for granted mean a lot for those in need.”