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Gift helps needy kids enjoy summer swims

Thu., June 23, 2011

The A.M. Cannon Pool was busy with kids and families out in the park and in the water Wednesday. (Christopher Anderson)
The A.M. Cannon Pool was busy with kids and families out in the park and in the water Wednesday. (Christopher Anderson)

Waiting list for free access to pools expected to grow

Three hundred children will get a chance to swim in Spokane’s pools thanks to a last-minute donation by a local credit union.

The Make A Splash program, which raised $38,000 to pay for swim passes for the poor in Spokane, Spokane County and Spokane Valley, ran out of passes allocated for Spokane kids in less than a week.

As of Wednesday morning, 342 kids were on a waiting list for passes, said Sheila Geraghty, business administrator for the Salvation Army of Spokane, which is distributing passes for city of Spokane and Spokane County pools.

Late Tuesday, however, Numerica Credit Union agreed to donate $6,000 – enough for about 300 passes.

Toni Nersesian, executive director of the Spokane Parks Foundation, said more kids are expected to want passes and fundraising will continue.

“I am absolutely positive that we are going to need twice that amount,” she said.

The parks foundation helps oversee the Make A Splash campaign.

This year, Make a Splash divided its money based on poverty statistics. Although only 20 percent of the money was set aside for kids in Spokane Valley, residents there have more passes available than in the city of Spokane because Spokane Valley pool fees are significantly lower.

In the original allotment this year, 1,240 passes were bought for kids in the city of Spokane, 253 in Spokane County and 1,357 in Spokane Valley.

The passes are only available for kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at school.

Fundraising for pool passes for low-income families began after the Spokane Park Board voted in 2009 to end the city’s longtime policy of free swimming for kids.

The board doubled pool prices for this summer.

There are no programs to help low-income adults pay pool fees.

On Monday, Spokane resident Kathryn Grabel told the Spokane City Council that the Park Board’s decision to double rates for city pools this year was shortsighted. Grabel, who lost her job in November, said she understands the need for a smaller increase.

“Doubling the fee while in a recession is outrageous,” she said.

Park officials say that money is tight because of the tough economy and that it’s important to charge higher fees to cover costs.

Hussey said Make A Splash is open to ideas to help adults.

“We are exploring options to see if we can see if we can get adults funded as well,” said Jen Hussey, a volunteer with the Make A Splash campaign.

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