AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) - The countdown has begun for school to end and summer fun to begin. That means kids will be hitting the swimming pool for days of fun and relaxation.
Before they jump in, a new national effort is underway to save their lives. It was created to honor a boy who lost his life to drowning last summer.
At five years old, Princeton Meadors was a typical, happy little boy who struck a chord both musically and personally with those who knew him best. "Princeton was a very lively, bubbly child.
Very energetic. You knew when he came into the room.Talk with anybody. Play with anybody. Sweet spirit," explains his mother Michelle Meadors.
Princeton was not only Michelle's son, but also seven year old Kaden's little brother. If a picture says a thousand words, then photos of Princeton reveal volumes about his personality. Although small in stature, Princeton's mother says his love was big. She says, "he would say "mommy do you love me?" I'd say, "yes Sweetie! I love you so, so very much."
Michelle says her love for the boys is strong, but, so was the bond they shared with her deceased husband's parents. So much so, every summer, the boys spent time with their grandmother and grandfather in Tennessee. But, Michelle says there was always one caveat. "I told her many times "don't take my children to the pool. They're kids. They may beg. But, I know what's safe for my children." Last July, that rule was broken and so was her heart.
"The family friend decided to leave the children in a whirlpool and walk away. When he walked away he was on his phone he was on Facebook. There's a videotape that shows everything that happened. Princeton got out of the whirlpool and went to the main pool and he slipped in," she recalled.
With the grandmother away getting food and the family friend not paying attention, Princeton was under water for six minutes. His brother and four other young relatives helplessly watched. Michelle explains, "it was a guest at the pool who pulled my child out of the water."
That day, Princeton became one of the estimated ten people who die daily due to unintentional drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of death for children in the United States.
Princeton, his brother Kaden and mother Michelle are members of the national organization Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated. Through programming, mother members create opportunities for growth and development.
Now, that includes a partnership with the American Red Cross to teach water safety to children as well as train and certify instructors and lifeguards. The initiative is known on social media as #JJSwims.
It's all done in Princeton's memory.
"I'm very happy that Jack and Jill of America to develop and implement this initiative with the American Red Cross to try to prevent this from happening to other children," smiles Michelle.
The initiative provides free water safety and swim lessons for children in communities across the country.
Princeton was a member of the Augusta chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Incorporated.
Local children jumped at the opportunity to become better acclimated with the water in memory of their friend.
As a swim coach, Russ Merritt says continued drownings keep him in motion toward making sure children know how to swim and even take strokes toward higher levels of competency.
He says, "those of us in the aquatic community think if we can prevent one or two or a few of these deaths just by putting people in competitive programs or swim lesson programs then that's well worth it."
Although drowning silenced Princeton's voice, he's still striking a chord through this new initiative and saving lives.
"I had so many aspirations for him based on his little personality, what I knew he could have done. It's unfortunate that we're not able to see that. But, with the Jack and Jill swim initiative in his honor he still lives on through that being able to save other children that's important. That's important. That brings me some sense of joy," his mother tearfully concludes.
Princeton and his brother Kaden were taking swim lessons which is the best way to prevent drownings.
But, it's also important to make sure an adult is always present and paying attention when children are around water. This includes not looking at phones or social media.
None of the five children was wearing floating devices when Princeton died. It's important that children who cannot swim proficiently wear U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets, vests of floatation devices whenever they are near water.
For swim lessons, contact the local chapter of the American Red Cross. In Augusta, families can contact the Augusta Aquatics Center at (706) 261-0424.
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