By By Alex Abrams//Red Line Editorial | Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Chris and Jenny McCuiston wanted to help children, but they kept looking for a method that would have a significant impact in the community.
The McCuistons were already offering youth swim lessons through their Goldfish Swim School, the premier learn-to-swim facility for kids up to 12 years old that the husband and wife founded. They wanted to do more, though, and they thought about starting their own charitable foundation.
As soon as the McCuistons were introduced to the USA Swimming Foundation, the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming, they came up with another way to give back to families.
Goldfish Swim School raised $163,773 in May during its inaugural Float It Forward campaign. The funds will be given to the USA Swimming Foundation for its Make a Splash initiative, which aims to raise awareness about water safety and help parents understand their children are less at risk of drowning if they know how to swim.
“Our goal and our message is to teach infants how to swim. That’s what we do really, really well. That’s our core focus,” said Chris McCuiston, CEO of Goldfish Swim School. “(We thought) let’s give money to the USA Swimming Foundation. (Their core focus) is drowning prevention and water safety.
“So it was an easy fit, a no-brainer for us to partner with them because they’re doing what we wanted to do, but they already have the system set up.”
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of unintentional deaths among children ages 1-4 years old, with three kids dying every day in the United States from it. It’s the second-leading cause of death for children under the age of 14.
At the same time, 79 percent of children in households that make less than $50,000 a year have little to no swimming ability.
Debbie Hesse, executive director of the USA Swimming Foundation, said the donation from Goldfish Swim School would help offset the cost of swimming lessons for those families in financial need.
“The impact of these funds will be tremendous. We know that a session of swim lessons can cost as low as $50 around the country, which is below the national average,” Hesse said.
“So this money can help knock down the barriers of entry for kids whose parents cannot afford swimming lessons. What it will also do is help raise awareness to parents of how important it is for every child to learn how to swim.”
The $163,773 collected through the Float It Forward campaign is part of Goldfish Swim School’s bigger goal of raising $1 million for the USA Swimming Foundation by 2024. McCuiston said the hope is to raise at least $200,000-$220,000 every year for the foundation.
“It’s a good start,” McCuiston said of the Float It Forward campaign. “Now what we’re going to do is partner with them to not lose that momentum and keep that excitement building so we can hit those annual goals.”
Goldfish Swim School franchise owners got excited about raising money for the USA Swimming Foundation as soon as they heard during a conference last year about the organization’s mission to promote water safety, McCuiston said.
Franchises held raffles, collected money through family swims and donated the registration fees for new members who joined in May, which is National Water Safety Month. Some franchise owners matched the donations that their locations collected during the month.
The Goldfish Swim School in Birmingham, Michigan, raised the most of any location with $24,751 in May. The Farmington Hills, Michigan, franchise followed closely behind at $24,191 for the month.
It turns out there was a friendly competition between the two locations —which are located around 25 minutes away from each other — to see which one could raise more money for the campaign.
“We all know each other, so it’s kind of a little thing to get each other up every morning to push each other to raise money,” McCuiston said.
McCuiston said the plan is to hold the Float It Forward campaign every May following its success in its first year. Hesse called the collaboration between the USA Swimming Foundation and Goldfish Swim School as “one of the most exciting and fulfilling partnerships that I’ve ever been a part of.”
“I absolutely think the momentum (with the Float It Forward campaign) was strong from the start, and those of us in fundraising know sometimes it can take awhile to get going,” Hesse said. “And so to have this kind of impact from the very first month that we started the partnership is tremendous.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USA Swimming on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.