On October 3, Western Palm Beach County residents – including those living in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee – enjoyed free activities at the Glades Family Fun Fest at Glades Pioneer Park. The four-hour event allowed residents and kids to get out and get active through dance, bounce houses, rock climbing, oversized hamster balls, and team sports like soccer. A “Health and Wellness Village” also gave residents a chance to get important information regarding their health and wellness, as well as free health screenings and giveaways.
This event was not possible without the support of our partners, who donated their time and resources to help us facilitate health and wellness opportunities for our residents.
Thank you to our sponsors & co-sponsors:
5210 Let’s Go!
Florida Health – Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County Fire Rescue
Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization
Palm Beach County Youth Services
Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office
Palm Healthcare Foundation, Inc.
The City of Belle Glade
We create opportunities for happy, healthy living!
In 2014, it was not unusual to find avid divers Jim Abernathy and Dan Volker under Blue Heron Bridge in Palm Beach County’s Phil Foster Park. The men regularly dive and take tourists to a stunning area under the bridge, a location world-renowned for diving and snorkeling. Divers and snorkelers are accompanied by a plethora of marine life: seahorses, octopus, schools of exotic fish, and a variety of other plant and animal life that thrive below the surface.
Above the surface, surrounding the men were tourists and residents alike basking in the hot sun and bathing in the blue waters. But, amidst the many people enjoying the beach, Abernathy and Volker noticed something concerning: a number of local residents and children were frolicking in waist-deep water. Curious, the men quickly found out the children didn’t know how to swim.
Living in Florida, they were disappointed to learn that the kids, who are lucky enough to live so close to the ocean, couldn’t take full advantage of their environment. It was a shame, as the kids took such interest in the divers, yet they didn’t have the skills to go beneath the surface to discover the whole new world of exotic marine life that lives just underneath their feet.
On Project Seahorse’s website, the men say that understanding the amazing underwater world “connects to the health of Palm Beach County now, and leads to an explosion in our coastal- and ocean culture-based tourism and related cottage industries….and this series of connections will transform our future.”
It was then, in 2014, that Project Seahorse was born. Its goal: to teach Palm Beach County kids how to swim and snorkel.
Making It Happen
Fast forward a year later, and the spark that started in Abernathy and Volker’s minds and hearts took a giant leap forward. In summer of 2015, Project Seahorse partnered with Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation and the City of Boynton Beach Parks and Recreation – among other private sponsors – to bring this wonderful experience to six separate camps and a total of 150 Palm Beach County children, ages 10 to 15.
Special Facilities Supervisor Joan Hutchinson says the county’s involvement made for a more organized fulfillment of the project, as county employees worked with the men to handle logistics, timeframes, permitting and more. “We took it to Recreation Services and helped them pull together a program that made sense for everyone,” Hutchinson said. More importantly though, Hutchinson added, the county’s support was key in developing community support for Project Seahorse and finding kids who would benefit from learning the skills Abernathy and Volker wanted to teach.
The program began several weeks before a big snorkel trip to Blue Heron Bridge with swim tests and lessons. Jonathan Dickinson, owner of Florida Freedivers, along with some of his staff, spent five days with each camp testing and teaching the children how to swim and snorkel. The little ones learned a variety of skills: from becoming comfortable wearing fins and masks, to the most important, how to breathe through a snorkel.
This was all done in the safety and control of the Palm Beach County Gleneagles Country Club Aquatic Center swimming pool at the CMAA Therapeutic Recreation Complex in John Prince Park in Lake Worth, which remained open for additional hours to accommodate Project Seahorse; the Boynton Beach group used Aqua Crest Pool in Delray Beach. Dickinson and his staff spent approximately 30 hours with the children teaching them the skills they’d need for their open water adventure. Certified water safety instructors from the Therapeutic Recreation Services Section worked with many of the children, helping them strengthen and improve their swimming skills.
“After weekly snorkeling lessons, one amazing outcome of the Project Seahorse program was that each teen improved their swimming levels. Non-swimmers learned to swim, weak swimmers became strong swimmers able to snorkel, and strong swimmers learned how to dive down ten feet under the water and view sea life up close,” said Adrienne Huisman, Palm Beach County Summer Camp Coordinator.
The Big Day
The big day came on August 3. Summer camps from Palm Beach County met at Phil Foster Park in Riviera Beach. The Boynton Beach kids snorkeled off-shore at an area just off of Boynton Beach. Abernathy and Volker came out in full force – complete with about ten volunteers and gear for the children to use. The volunteers were all diving instructors and each had a group of kids to take under the Blue Heron Bridge.
The children saw fish, octopus, starfish, and seahorses, among other marine life. The campers all loved the experience and were, of course, sad when it was time to leave. The good thing, though, is that Project Seahorse will be back next year to teach new campers the skill of snorkeling. The children who learned this year can act as mentors for the kids next year.
West Boynton Teen Camp Director Cameron Morris added, “my teens loved the day we snorkeled in the ocean. They wanted more time and were asking if we were going to be able to go next summer.”
More exciting, in summer of 2016, Project Seahorse may be bigger and better – with two days of snorkeling instead of one!
It’s a three-day competition Palm Beach County Lifeguards train for year-round – the United States Lifesaving Association’s Nationals. This year, PBC Ocean Rescue sent eight of its best Lifesavers to run, lift and swim their way to the prize at this year’s USLA Nationals in Daytona Beach.
On August 6th thru 8th, the eight PBC Ocean Rescue members joined about a thousand competitors from around the nation work with specialized equipment in both open- and age-group competitions to show off their ocean rescue skills. This year’s events included American and International Iron Man and Woman, Run-Swim-Run, Taplin Relay, Landline Rescue, and others; one or more PBC Ocean Rescue team members entered in 12 of the 14 events.
Among the 49 teams who competed, PBC Ocean Rescue placed 28th – a feat they still remain proud of, as this year, the team was smaller than in previous years. “We’re really proud of how our small but mighty team did this year,” said North County Training Officer Rob Rogerson. In past years, Palm Beach County has had the honor of placing first in nationals– two times.
According to Steve Kaes, South County Ocean Rescue Training Officer and a competitor, one of the biggest rewards from this competition is the teambuilding it encourages among members. North and South County Ocean Rescue members don’t often get the chance to work together, so this event gives them the opportunity to get to know their fellow lifeguards and work with them, moving 300-pound boats and lifting 50-pound surf skis, among other tasks.
However, perhaps the most important goal of this competition is what every Ocean Rescue member strives to do – help save lives. Training for the USLA local, regional and national competitions ensure the lifeguards are always in top shape when duty calls. The events serve as an exhibition of skills for the competitors, and while the specialized equipment used for the events would not necessarily be used for real-life rescues, working with the higher-grade equipment does allow for more specialized knowledge and increased expertise when working with actual lifesaving equipment.
The competitors volunteer their time and pay entry fees to compete; Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue is proud of all its competitors this year.
Congratulations to Tiffany LaCasse, who teamed with Jen Noonan of Pompano Beach Patrol to place third in the women’s Open Surf Rowing Final, the overall best rating for PBC Ocean Rescue at this year’s competition.
Also, congratulations to Tiffany LaCasse and Keshia Pinault, who teamed with two guards from other agencies and placed 13th in the women’s Taplin Relay Finals; to Chase Robertson and Keshia Pinault who competed in International Ironman, Surf Ski, Paddleboard, and Run-Swim-Run, and just missed the finals for those competitions; to Tom O’Connor, who placed high in the semi-final in Swim and Run-Swim-Run; to Steve Kaes, Keisha Pinalt, Russ Geweiler and Tom O’Connor, who were in the se
mi-finals in the Line Pull; to Steve Kaes and Russ Geweiler, who were in the semi-finals in the Open Men’s Row; and to Steve Kaes, Rob Rogerson and Dan Barnickel, who competed with distinction in multiple age group events including: Doubles Row, Rescue Race, Surf Swim, Rescue Board, Run-Swim-Run, Surf Ski, Taplin Relay; and International and American Ironman.
“We learned so much from this event. Rules and equipment standards have changed. So have many race strategies and tactics. With the new equipment we have ordered and budgeted combined with knowledge of our veterans and the enthusiastic younger guards, we expect many more of our department’s guards to join next year’s competition team. Our USLA PBC Chapter fundraisers raised enough in donations to reimburse $150 to each competitor to help offset travel costs and entry fees. We hope to do even better next year,” said Rogerson, who calls this year’s team a “young and growing team.”
On October 27th, PBC Ocean Rescue members will have the opportunity to compete in the Peanut Island Row and Paddle Race. Spectators can cheer from the sidelines as the competitors make their way around the Island.