Buzz: YMCA offers 100 scholarships for free swim/water safety lessons. CASA training set for Saturdays in March; how to help. Finster Fest 2019 gets $10,000 arts grant.

Buzz: YMCA offers 100 scholarships for free swim/water safety lessons. CASA training set for Saturdays in March; how to help. Finster Fest 2019 gets $10,000 arts grant.

The YMCA of Rome and Floyd County is launching Safety Around Water, a program to engage and educate parents about the importance of water safety skills and provide more of America’s youth access to water safety lessons. The program will focus on reaching African American and Hispanic communities in Rome and Floyd County where risk of drowning among children is highest.

In achieving its goal to make swim lessons more accessible for all children, this summer the Y will award 100 scholarships for free swim lessons to children in high-risk communities in our community.

According to data from the USA Swimming Foundation, 64 percent of African American and 40 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, compared to 40 percent of Caucasian children. While fatal drowning is a concern for all children – it’s the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children ages one to 14 years old – African American children ages 5 to 14 are three times more likely to drown than their white counterparts.

Through Safety Around Water, parents and caregivers will be encouraged to help their children learn fundamental water safety and swimming skills. During the eight-day course, children will learn how to respond if they find themselves in unexpected water situations — from how to reach the water’s surface if they submerge to safely reaching a pool’s edge or exiting any body of water.

“In many underserved communities, staying safe around water means keeping kids away from water, but water safety and swimming are important life skills in the growth and development of all children, particularly in our community with our three rivers and many streams, creeks and lakes,” said Kristin Heath-Strickland, Aquatics Director of the YMCA in Rome. “All children deserve access to water safety resources that not only could save their lives but enrich them with an outlet for fun, healthy activity.”

Families interested in learning more about Safety Around Water and how to enroll their child in local Y swimming and water safety classes should visit or email Kristin Strickland, Aquatics Director at


Paradise Garden Foundation has received a Challenge America grant of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to help present Finster Fest over Memorial Day weekend. Challenge America grants support projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations—whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability

Howard Pousner, board chairman of the Paradise Garden Foundation, said that, beyond needed financial support, the grant represents an important endorsement of the nonprofit’s work to operate and restore Howard Finster’s irreplaceable folk art environment in Summerville, the seat of Chattooga County, one of Georgia’s poorest counties.

“We so appreciate this vote of confidence from the NEA, which awarded Paradise Garden Foundation a $55,000 grant just last year to begin planning the multiphase restoration of Paradise Garden’s signature structure, the World’s Folk Art Church,” Pousner said. “These grants make our hard-working board and staff all the more determined to protect Howard Finster’s remarkable creative legacy. This great artist and man of faith lives on through his inspiring art and art environment.”

Paradise Garden was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, the same year it was purchased by Chattooga County.

Finster Fest will present more than 50 (mostly folk) artists, an ambitious schedule of roots music, and tasty barbecue on May 25-26. The foundation’s largest annual fundraiser drew a record 2,000-plus last summer.

Floyd County CASA staff will hold 4 Week Intensive Training on Saturdays next month, from March 2 through March 23 from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at the CASA office inside the Restoration Rome building, 1400 Crane St. (the old Southeast Elementary School). Participants must attend all four days and attend 10 hours of juvenile court observation to become certified CASA volunteers.

Floyd County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) recruits, trains and supervises community volunteers to bring individual attention, urgency and advocacy to abused and
neglected children in the foster care system, both in and out of the courtroom. In 2016, the number of abused or neglected children in care in Floyd County was one of the
highest, per capita, in the state. Those numbers have dropped since then, but Floyd County still has a high rate of kids in care with 271 children currently in state custody.

CASA volunteers are appointed by Juvenile Court judges to advocate and act in the best interest of abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes and are living in foster care.

Lynne Barton, the program’s Volunteer Recruiter said, “An advocate’s ultimate goal is to act as an independent set of eyes and ears for the juvenile court judge by providing updated
information on the progression of the case. They report on the well-being of the child, and any concerns regarding the child’s welfare while in custody of the state. The advocate may make recommendations to the judge regarding additional services the child may need, as well as the
safest, permanent placement for a child.

She adds that advocates must be at least 21. There is no education or experience requisite.

For more:  Barton at 706-235-2272 or email

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