© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Milwaukee’s Aquatics Ambassadors program recruits lifeguards, promotes water safety for all swimmers

Mother and son, Rae Johnson and Elijah Moore, are two Aquatics Ambassadors who recently learned how to swim.
Milwaukee Parks Foundation
Mother and son, Rae Johnson and Elijah Moore, are two Aquatics Ambassadors who recently learned how to swim.

Summer is still a few months away, but there’s a program working to help address lifeguard shortages ahead of the swimming season.

The Aquatics Ambassadors Milwaukee program helps to recruit lifeguards and promotes water safety in Milwaukee County, through a partnership with the Milwaukee Parks Foundation and Milwaukee County Parks.

“The Aquatics Ambassadors came to be a sort of panel of experts who could help us both understand the challenges with the lifeguard shortage and develop innovative solutions that hadn't been tried before to try and address the lifeguard crisis,” says Rebecca Stoner, executive director of the Milwaukee Parks Foundation.

Stoner says the feedback ambassadors received from community members was that people didn’t know how to swim or didn’t feel connected to Milwaukee’s swimming culture. To help bridge that gap, the program created a list of swimming resources throughout Milwaukee County.

With the help of the ambassadors, the program is also working to promote equitable access to swimming and make it a more welcoming space for communities of color.

“Milwaukee County Parks lifeguard corps, just to be frank, is mostly young, white people and we live in a city that is made up of majority people of color," Stoner says. “So there's clearly some folks that we're not connecting with. [So] how do we get creative and try to build cultures of swimming for folks who maybe don't feel as connected for a variety of reasons?”

All six Aquatics Ambassadors have their own unique relationship with swimming — from Olympic swimmers to new swimmers — which helps them connect with community members and inform the program’s mission.

Mother and son, Rae Johnson and Elijah Moore, are two Aquatics Ambassadors who learned how to swim in 2020.

In 2019, when he was 10 years old, Moore says he noticed a lot of activities he wanted to join in on were built around swimming. So during the pandemic, he says he learned to swim at North Division High School’s pool alongside his mom.

“I focused on making sure they were comfortable in the water, as well as me, because it's important to look out for that,” Moore says. “Helping mom float, … just the small things, we helped each other along the journey. It was great to do that, side-by-side. It was really rewarding.”

Johnson says they learned how to swim with their son because they didn’t want him to be afraid when he started taking swimming lessons. Johnson also says they wanted to overcome their fear and learn a new life skill as an example for their son.

“I actually love [swimming],” Johnson says. “I live by North Division High School, so when there's an opportunity to get in the water, I'm there. I've now kind of incorporated other people in my family, like my sister's kids and my mom — my mom's taking water aerobics with me … through Milwaukee Recreation. So it's a lot of fun. Now I have these experiences, and I can go down to the beach and enjoy myself instead of just sitting in the sand.”

Since learning how to swim, Moore says he’s joined the Boy Scouts and earned his first merit badge for swimming, swam competitively with the Krakens — a city-wide youth swim club and did Milwaukee’s Polar Plunge earlier this year.

Moore also says he hopes to join a swim team in high school next year and plans on becoming a lifeguard in the next two or three years.

“[Swimming] went from being something very intimidating and kind of scary to a meditative experience, as well as a great exercise,” he says. “And now I really enjoy helping other people get over their fears of water too, and being able to explore and have that freedom [with swimming].”

To learn more about the Aquatics Ambassadors Milwaukee program and how to become a lifeguard for Milwaukee County Parks, visit the Aquatics Ambassadors website.


Xcaret is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
Related Content