Growing Up, Helping Others

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Nine years ago, a couple of 12-year- old boys from Southern California started a non-profit to help people learn to swim called "Goggles for Guppies."

The boys, twin brothers Chris and Matt Hales, both water lovers and fine swimmers in their own right, had come to realize that part of the barrier for some people learning to swim was financial. That just didn't sit well with them.

When you love something yourself, it's natural to want to share that love. And the Hales brothers wanted to help others come to know that same wonderful feeling of freedom in water. At the same time, the boys were aware of drowning statistics that skew toward those without the ability to swim, and that the costs often play a role in a child's opportunity to learn that skill.

They decided to help.

They realized there were people who had swimming gear to donate, and there were people who could put that gear to good use in a pool. So the Hales brothers became the connection.

They contacted manufacturers and retailers and got them to send in their unsold inventories of swimsuits, caps and goggles, and then they distributed the equipment to qualified learn-to-swim programs for financially challenged, at-risk and special needs children.

That was 2011, and in the nine years since, Matt and Chris Hales have grown up, and so has their non-profit. Goggles for Guppies has become the largest domestic and international distributor of free swim equipment. It has delivered over $1.6 million worth of free swim equipment to children in every state. Its international efforts have reached as far as Africa and Central America.

"When we first started, not many people took us seriously," Chris says. "At first, only a couple of swimming equipment retailers were willing to send some unsold suits and goggles to a couple of 12-year-old boys. But we knew that kids who couldn't afford to learn to swim were drowning every day, and we simply couldn't give up.

"So we placed donation containers at local swimming pools in our area, and we kept reaching out to more manufacturers and retailers across the country. Once we launched our website and became an affiliate partner with the USA Swimming Foundation's Make a Splash initiative, everything changed. Now we have strong industry support, and we spend every break from college pre-packing hundreds of boxes of donated suits, caps and goggles just to keep up with the demand."

Over the years, as Goggles for Guppies has expanded its reach and become more widely recognized, the boys have received numerous honors and accolades, including the President's Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by President Barack Obama. Today, the non-profit the brothers started has helped millions of poverty-level families to become safer in and around the water, and it continues to deliver swimming gear all over the world, one box at a time.

"We've been doing this for years," Matt says, "but it's still rewarding to know that we're helping people learn to swim — a skill that might one day save their life. Every time we receive a thank you note from a learn-to-swim program, an international humanitarian program, a school district, a YMCA or Boys' and Girls' Club, a parent, or a second-grader who wants to grow up to be Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps, we know we're on the right track to helping defeat the epidemic of accidental childhood drownings and making the world a safer place."

If you would like to learn more about Goggles for Guppies, go to gogglesforguppies.org

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