Josh Project educating, protecting community with help from UT

July 17, 2015 | Features, UToday
By Samantha Watson

After her son Josh drowned at the age of 16, Wanda Butts decided she had to do something to save other families from the same heartache.

Zhada Fields spoke with three girls about how to swim during the Josh Project’s June 18 lesson at St. Francis de Sales High School.

Zhada Fields spoke with three girls about how to swim during the Josh Project’s June 18 lesson at St. Francis de Sales High School.

She founded the Josh Project, which has since taught hundreds of children how to swim and continues to educate the Toledo community on water safety.

This summer, the organization is holding free lessons for 114 students, 30 more than usual, thanks in part to members of The University of Toledo who helped them secure a grant.

The grant is from the Children’s Nationwide Hospital through funding from the Center for Disease Control. It is an injury prevention grant designed so that the Josh Project and UT researchers can measure attitudes and behavioral changes of parents about water safety after the program.

“We are a small organization, so with UT’s help writing the grant proposal for us and helping to get funding, we were able to offer our program to more students than we would normally be able to,” said Tankeeya Butts of the Josh Project.

In addition to writing the grant proposal, UT provided educational materials to participants, highlighting water safety tips. The University has created brochures and pamphlets, designed social media messages and other communications in order to help get the message across to parents and their children.

“The reality is that the parents have a great deal of influence on where their children swim and whether or not they’re supervised,” said Dr. Tavis Glassman, UT associate professor in the College of Health Sciences, the primary investigator for this study.

Glassman and his graduate students will be evaluating the intervention via a pre- and post-test study design utilizing a control group. They will then analyze the results, evaluate the program, and aim to publish those results in a journal.

For now, the grant provides funds to assess the current intervention, but Glassman is hoping to get further funding for other water safety studies so that they can continue their research.

Though this is one of the largest groups that the Josh Project has taught, it’s just one of many initiatives that the organization is working on to help protect Toledo’s youth. Just this year, the organization installed a life jacket station at Olander Park in Sylvania following the accidental drowning of a young boy last summer.

“We can count the number of students and parents in our program, but we know that we impact more than just those people,” Butts said. “We’ll never know how many lives we actually save because the people we teach will share the information that they learn. There’s a ripple effect.”

On June 18, the Josh Project participated in a worldwide swimming lesson. The local lesson, held at St. Francis de Sales High School, was one of more than 900 that took place around the globe on that day in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record.

There were 21 participants at St. Francis, with guest appearances by Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and Robert Adler, commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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