LYNCH/VAN OTTERLOO YMCA: Help save a life this summer

Now that summer is here it is critical to remind everyone of the importance of water safety in our coastal community. The Y’s Director of Inclusion Jerry Justice was recently featured on WCVB-TV to highlight the Y’s Water Wise swim program for children with intellectual disabilities. He stressed the need for water safety for all, especially children and even more specifically children with intellectual disabilities.

Jerry Justice leads the Y’s Water Wise program for children with autism. COURTESY PHOTO

Research by the National Autism Association has demonstrated that accidental drowning adversely affects children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and children with autism are 160 times more likely to die from drowning than the general pediatric population. The autism diagnosis rate in young children continues to rise. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism ages 3 to 15 years.

The Y’s swimming lessons and the Water Wise swim program aim to give all children access to life-saving programming.

The Y needs your help. The Water Wise program is offered at the Marblehead, Beverly and Ipswich Ys and there are more than 90 children on the waiting list. The Y needs volunteers who want to be trained as instructors for this program so it can offer this lifesaving program to all who need it. 

“We want to be able to provide this unique program to every child and family that needs it and we need more staff to do that,” said Justice. “We’ll give you the skills and tools you need, all you need is a few hours a week, a big heart and the desire to help keep kids safe. We’ll help you with everything else.”

Currently, the Lynch/van Otterloo Y’s Water Wise program is serving 16 children over the 12-week spring session. From September 2022 through June 2023, the Y has served 50 children in its Water Wise program, ensuring that these children are safe around water.

Through an innovative, individual Activity Plan placement system, the Y partners with families to identify key information about their child’s diagnosis, physical needs, strengths, communication abilities, experience in water, response to instruction, interests and motivation tactics. This allows the Y to place the child in a class with proper ratios, structure and instructional approach.

The Water Wise program has gone beyond teaching children to swim; Water Wise provides an opportunity for children with cognitive disabilities to make much needed social connections in their community. Families are provided with a “social story” that familiarizes the child to the YMCA and their lesson, a visual approach to instruction that builds confidence and self-esteem, opportunity for peer interaction and social skill development, reduction of social isolation and the alleviation of parents’ fear as their child becomes more confident and safe around water.

To learn more about how you can help the Water Wise program, please contact Justice at

Brian Flynn, LVO YMCA Exec. Dir.
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