Learn to lifeguard and save lives at YMCASWV’s Junior Lifeguard Camp

BECKLEY, WV (WOAY) – The YMCA of Southern West Virginia’s Junior Lifeguard Camp is an American Red Cross certification program for ages 11 to 14 that kicks off on June 26.

It focuses on the attitudes and skills it takes to be a lifeguard.

The teens learn five key areas: emergency response, prevention of aquatic emergencies, fitness, swimming/leadership skills and professionalism as a lifeguard. While there are perks to the job: being outside, getting sun, a good tan…

“We’re around kids. We’re preventing emergencies. We have a sense of responsibility to act and perform — we’re not just sitting in a stand watching the water and watching people swim. It is so much more than that,” said Aquatics Director Cat Gunther.

Gunther says that good lifeguards don’t even have to get in the water for a rescue.

“Because they prevent something before it even happens,” she said. “And all of that goes hand-in-hand with giving us a sense of purpose in what we do. We’re making a difference.”

The first Junior Lifeguard Camp experience starts with a heavy focus on what lifeguards do because Gunther says she doesn’t feel like society understands.

“Recognizing distressed swimmers — like having a child crawl hand over hand on a wall, a telltale sign that child can’t swim, they need extra surveillance,” said the aquatics director. “Because if they can’t touch they could potentially drown. Then it focuses on responding to those emergencies.”

The kids get certification upon successful completion of both a first aid and AED course.

“Upon successful completion of the remainder of the course, which are the different rescue skills that lifeguards use in the event of an aquatic emergency,” Gunther said they will get a certification in junior lifeguarding. “Shows that whenever they go to take their prerequisite test for the big cert, they know what they’re doing.”

Twenty-seven kids (who grew up around water and love the pool) completed the program in 2023 and none failed their prerequisite test. One will soon turn 15.

“She is in my next lifeguard certification class and is coming to work here at the Y,” said the aquatics director. “So we have already seen that transition from the camp into actually getting a job.”

According to Cat, these junior lifeguards are fixing the nationwide lifeguard shortage. And being a part of the program means you also come home with some swag.

“They will get their own hit pack, their own resuscitation mask, lanyard and whistle, and the CPR, first aid/AED certification and junior lifeguard certification,” Gunther said. “The last day of the camp, they will get to shadow one of our veteran lifeguards for actual job experience.”

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