by James Sica
The University of Richmond Women’s Swimming and Diving Team has been named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) Community Service Team. The UR women earned the recognition for their work with the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond, an organization that develops leadership and life skills in children who live in at-risk communities.
The University of Richmond Women’s Swimming Team has a long-standing relationship with the Youth Life Foundation, having worked with them for over six years. Once a month during their season, the children from the organization come to campus and take swim lessons with the team for an hour.
Many of the children involved in the program come from low income neighborhoods where they would not have access to swim lessons or even a pool. The UR swim team’s work with them provides not only teaches the children a useful life skill, but is a great way for them to develop lasting, trusting relationships where the participants can be challenged and grow in a positive way.
Heather Goodlett, the founder and Executive Director of the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond, spoke to the impact that the team has on the children they work with: "The way the UR Swim and Dive team have adopted YLFR has been amazing! Many of our students are afraid of the water and have not had much experience with swimming or getting into a pool. The fact that you all show up and have almost a 1:1 student to swimmer ratio has really propelled our children to improve. Some have gotten over real fears...You are making a difference in their lives!"
While the impact the Richmond team has on the children in the organization is incredible, the student-athletes also gain valuable perspective from their experience working with the organization. Anna Fetter, a 2015 graduate of Richmond, remarked how the team’s work with the Youth Life Foundation “completely changed my experience at the University of Richmond.”
“Throughout my four years I worked with the same young girl, watching her cry for an hour on the side of the pool to four years later watching her swim a lap all on her own,” Fetter said. “I grew to love the program and got so attached to my little swim buddy that I asked to intern with them for my Jepson summer internship. That internship is the most rewarding memory of my entire UR career. I learned how to become a teacher, how to work with children every day, and how to deal with different social classes first hand. I built so much of a relationship with the kids that I asked Leahna if she and the kids would be able to come to my senior swim meet. About five minutes before the meet began Leahna and 13 children who we had watched grow for the last four years walked onto the pool deck carrying “Go Miss Anna” signs. Seeing everything that meant so much to me all in one place was incredible. Our partnership with YLFR is not only teaching these kids a life skill, but it teaches our team valuable life skills as well.”
Developing trusting, meaningful relationships is one of the missions of the Youth Life Foundation, and Head Coach Matt Barany explained that is what makes their partnership so special. "It's not just us popping into a short-term service project and leaving when our time is up,” he explained. “Our swimmers & divers deliver swim instruction over a series of Fridays. Relationships develop and the YLFR students get great role models. It's a win-win-win for the YLFR students, our athletes, and the university."