By Rhonda Marable//USA Swimming Multicultural Public Relations Manager | Tuesday, January 20, 2015
“Ask a lot of questions...there are answers out there”
With just 85 staff and 400,000 members, USA Swimming heavily relies on passionate volunteers at the local level to be able to provide community support. Volunteers like Pacific Swimming Diversity Chair Kent Yoshiwara have been a shining example of how one person can make a huge difference in their local swim committees (LSC's) and the sport of swimming.
A professional with over 20 years in the healthcare industry, Yoshiwara also currently serves as the western zone diversity coordinator and was the former national diversity committee chair for USA Swimming.
Like many volunteers, Yoshiwara began his involvement in the sport through his swimming children. Rather than sitting on the sidelines, Yoshiwara became an official and eventually worked his way up to leadership and chair positions within his LSC. His daughter Carole was active on committees as an athlete, driving Yoshiwara’s interest during the U.S. Aquatics Sports Convention where he first volunteered for a committee.
“I had an interest in begin involved at the LSC level and I was initially part of an ad-hoc committee put together to look at what we were interested in doing for diversity and what we would be able to accomplish,” said Yoshiwara. “I might have been selected because I wasn’t a coach and wasn’t already focusing on other things but I thought the diversity initiatives were a good idea.”
Yoshiwara’s skills in planning and management were no doubt helpful on this active committee charged with creating the LSC’s first diversity plans. Based on the directives of Pacific Swimming’s senior leadership, the committee developed and vetted ideas for diversity and inclusion, called “outreach” at the time.
“I really want to make sure people know that it was the leadership; these men and women that were some of the founding members of the LSC that had the vision to increase diversity and inclusion,” he said. “It might be surprising because you would think it would be younger generations that would be more inclusive but it was the senior leadership that really pushed this over.”
Yoshiwara’s initial work in making Pacific Swimming more inclusive revolved around supporting club programming with funding, a task that is still one of the most important considerations for clubs and LSC’s around the country. Yoshiwara led the LSC diversity committee and created an initial grassroots funding scheme for the LSC, with clubs contacting him directly with program ideas in need of funding. After a while, he was able to create a system for twice-yearly funding in the spring and fall for clubs.
One particularly strong program coming out of Pacific Swimming is their diversity camp. Camp Director Veronica Hernandez who has been the director of Pacific Swimming's camp for the all five years its been active. Their latest camp in November of 2014, drew more than 50 diverse athletes.
“As more clubs started to implement programs, the requests for funding increased and we wanted to move to a more equitable system. Doing this twice a year allows for clubs with programs at the end of the year to be able to get funding that would have been used up earlier,” he said. “This has definitely had an impact on our underserved athletes both socioeconomically and ethnically.”
In 2011, Yoshiwara became USA Swimming’s diversity committee chair where he executed an agenda to help the NGB become more inclusive at the most basic levels.
“One of the biggest things we did while I was chair was work to tackle the mission statement for diversity because it was not as inclusive as we thought it could be. It didn’t address any of the gender equity or LGBT issues and we wanted to make sure things like sexual orientation and transgender issues were not left out,” Kent affirmed. “We spent the whole year or more making sure we got the right verbiage and wording to change the mission statement. It was surprising that nobody had looked at this prior to 2009.”
This committee initiative led by Yoshiwara evolved after his tenure when the next committee chair worked to do the same for the USA Swimming rulebook where similar additions were implemented.
As one of four zone coordinators for USA Swimming, Kent also works to bring together diversity programming ideas from all western zone LSC’s, a task that has many challenges that Yoshiwara believes keeps the western zone from having maximum impact. One thing Yoshiwara wants other volunteers at the club or LSC level to know is to be sure to ask about information and share it.
“Ask a lot of questions; there are answers out there. One of the struggles I keep hearing is that people may not know who to turn to for advice, feedback or information. Sharing internal knowledge is essential,” he said. “For the west, we’re trying to accumulate documents that might help any of the LSC’s develop their programs without having to reinvent the wheel. There are some technical challenges to accomplish this but LSC’s and individual clubs are also reaching out themselves for information.”
While there are many challenges to face in providing strong programming and information for LSC’s and clubs in USA Swimming, progress come slowly but surely. It wasn’t until 2014 that there were official diversity coordinators in each zone with Yoshiwara counted among this historic group.
People like Kent Yoshiwara continue to ensure that the sport of swimming becomes more inclusive for all.
For more information about USA Swimming Diversity initiatives and diversity chair positions, visit, www.usaswimming.org.
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