Step Into Swim, a non-profit initiative of the Pool & Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) dedicated to creating more swimmers through safe swim education, announced a strategic partnership with Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation this week. The Foundation committed $200,000 and received a direct match from the PHTA Board of Directors, which will help Step Into Swim gift grants to learn-to-swim providers across the Northeast and fund 40,000 swim lessons for thousands of children while driving down the drowning rate.
Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation was founded in 1990 by Kim and Stew Leonard, Jr., who tragically lost their son, Stew Leonard III (“Stewie”), in a drowning accident when he was just 21 months old. The Foundation focuses on water safety awareness and education initiatives by funding hundreds of lifeguard training and more than 10,000 free or low-cost swim lessons for children in need each year. In June 2023, the Foundation opened its first Stewie the Duck Swim School in Norwalk, Conn. All net proceeds from the swim school will be used to fund swim lessons for children who may otherwise not have access.
“Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation shares a mission with Step Into Swim: to save lives through swim lessons,” says Olympic Gold Medalist Rowdy Gaines, PHTA vice president of partnerships & development, who leads the Step Into Swim initiative. “Stew and Kim are heroes in the water safety community, and Step Into Swim is so honored to receive their generous donation. We are excited to be able to focus these funds on the Northeast, where there is a tremendous need to increase access to swim lessons.”
Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages one to four. However, receiving swim lessons from a qualified instructor reduces the risk of drowning by 88% for that same age group — underscoring the importance of water safety programs. Through the Foundation’s generous $200,000 donation and ongoing partnership, Step Into Swim can make a positive impact in communities across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, where the Stew Leonard’s supermarket chain already performs community outreach, and extend the lifesaving gift of learning to swim in areas important to the Foundation.
“We love Rowdy Gaines and Step Into Swim! Its mission aligns with ours beautifully, which is to save a life, one lesson at a time,” says Kim and Stew Leonard Jr., co-founders of Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation. “We are thrilled to have created a partnership with Step Into Swim and look forward to working with them to prevent drownings.”
According to a company spokesperson, contributions like this from the Foundation are integral to growing Step Into Swim’s mission. Through 2023, Step Into Swim has raised over $750,000, providing grants to more than 100 facilities in 33 states and funding swim lessons for 23,000 children. The initiative has gifted more than 300,000 swim lessons since 2012 through YMCAs, Jewish Community Centers, Boys and Girls Clubs, and many more. Step Into Swim is funded through contributions, and 100 percent of donations go to learn-to-swim programming.