Free swim lessons offered to nearly 200 kids in Opa-locka

Toddler drowning provokes woman to start Learning to Swim program

By Samantha Bryant - Reporter

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. - An Opa-locka initiative is teaching children how to swim after two separate incidents of a child falling into a backyard pool in April.

"The inspiration was Chloe. I read the story about two drownings in Miami Gardens," Bridget McKinney said. "What an unfortunate story to hear, a 17-month-old and a 2-year-old, simultaneously."

"I got the first phone call: A child found in the pool," police Chief Antonio Brooklen said. "And then 15 minutes later I got the second phone call."

The nightmare for parents with pools back in April was almost a reality for Nia Brooker.

"I never imagined anything like this happening to any of my kids," Brooker said.

Brooker, the mother of Chloe, remembers the night her 2-year-old daughter was found floating in their backyard pool.

"I noticed she was gone for like two-three minutes. The only place left to look was in the backyard, where the pool was," she said.

On the same day, only moments and blocks from each other, two Miami Gardens kids were found floating in their backyard pool. The youngest, 17 months, didn't make it.

"They slip and fall -- it takes three to five seconds and we lose our kids," Bridget McKinney said.

McKinney heard the news and decided to start a Learning to Swim program in Opa-locka.

"The inspiration was Chloe," McKinney said. "I searched all over Miami looking for this little girl till I found her mother and father, and I begged them, 'I will do it for free.'"

Free for Chloe and 190 other kids, at what McKinney said is the only operating public pool in Opa-locka at Shebondy Park.

At the end of the lessons, each of the kids will get a life jacket, and they're hoping the program will continue to grow to service more residents in the Opa-locka community.

"I have two choices: We can fight about it and get petitions and ask for open pools, or we can find one and start somewhere, and that's what we did," McKinney said.

"It feels so awesome," Brooker said. "When I think about that day, when I look at her now and I see her in the pool, I get so excited to see her back in the water, but positively."

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