Most people know the Stew Leonard name through its well-known — and well-stocked — grocery store namesakes located in Yonkers, Norwalk and Danbury. You would imagine that the person running the emporiums — in this case, Stew Leonard, Jr. — would have little time to do much else. But Stew, Jr., is a parent, and one on a special mission. Stew and his wife, Kim, run the Stew Leonard 111 Water Safety Foundation, named for their son, Stewie, who drowned in 1989 at 21 months, in a swimming pool accident on a family vacation in the Caribbean. The Leonards have channeled their grief not only by starting the foundation, but also by writing a book with Dr. Lawrence E. Shapiro — Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim, which also has a companion video. The book, which comes with a CD of narration and a song with lyrics promoting water safety to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, is geared toward children ages 2-6. It stars a duck named Stewie, and its premise is entertaining, yet simple and effective for kids to understand: Stewie wants to take to the water to join the more experienced ducks for a swim; however, he has to learn the rules of water safety first. These rules are as follows: learn to swim, wear a life vest at all times, and be sure there is an adult watching by the pool to help in case something goes wrong. The video uses puppets and its message is the same as that of the book. The kids’ book and video are new, but since 1990 the Foundation has been helping to promote water safety awareness in both children and adults. It funds a lifeguard training program with YMCAs in the Bronx and Yonkers, and it works with Ys in Norwalk, Westport and Danbury, CT., on various aspects of water safety. “The Bronx has a big swimming program at the Y, as does Yonkers,” says Stew, Jr. “As our foundation grows, we would like to expand our programs with the Y, as their aquatic programs are great. The inner cities especially need more support when it comes to water safety.” The Foundation also sponsors kids from the Fresh Air Fund to come to camp at the Yonkers Y for five days a week in the summer. And children in Norwalk can use the local high school pool for swim lessons, partially sponsored by scholarships from the Foundation and Swim America, a national organization. The Foundation supplies YMCAs with water safety equipment as well. The statistics of childhood drowning accidents are sobering. According to the Water Safety Foundation, every year more than half of all water safety accidents occur at home, and one-third at the homes of friends or relatives. Many victims survive, but often with lasting, grave injuries, such as brain damage. The Water Safety Foundation has enabled more than 10,000 kids to learn to swim since it was established 14 years ago. The Leonards hope the book and video will further promote water safety awareness in a fun way for children, albeit with a serious message. The idea for the Stewie the Duck character came from a visit Stew, Jr., made to the set of “Sesame Street”. “They gave me a rubber duck, which I started using in our safety logo for the foundation. When our family was on vacation, our youngest daughter, who was about 5 at the time, had a cut on her face and couldn’t go out in the sun because of it. My wife kept reminding her to put cream on her face for the cut and not to go in the sun. I told my daughter that we should write a book about ‘Mr. Sun’. We drew a little duck that would wake up in the morning and talk about how she’d cut herself. The sun would talk to her about her ‘boo boo’, and she’d talk back to the sun about caring for her cut. I saw that this fun approach affected my daughter’s behavior, because she became more obedient about taking care of her cut. I then thought that perhaps this approach was the best way to teach kids about water safety — something kids could relate to, digest and learn from. I made each of my daughters characters in the book, and that was the beginning of the Stewie the Duck character.” Leonard says that although one of the goals of the Water Safety Foundation is to stress supervision of kids while they swim, “it’s impossible to keep a 24/7 watch on a kid, especially if it’s an active family.” However, Leonard cites the success of the book and the Water Safety Foundation’s programs as evidence that his message is being effectively spread. “The most important thing to remember is that drowning accidents are 100 percent preventable with proper supervision of kids and by following water safety rules.” All proceeds from the book and video are donated to the Water Safety Foundation. However, the Foundation also relies on sponsorships from companies and hosts benefit events, such as an annual golf tournament in Connecticut. “We’re considering a tournament in Westchester, too,” says Leonard.
Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim is available for $4.95 at Stew Leonard stores in Yonkers, Norwalk and Danbury, CT, as well as through Amazon.com and at select Barnes and Noble stores (www.bn.com). The video is available for $7.95 at Stew Leonard stores and online at www.stewleonards.com. For more information on the Water Safety Foundation, visit www.stewietheduck.com, or call (203) 750-6121.
Summer Health & Safety Drowning — "the sudden, silent danger" By Alison Hogan
According to the non-profit Home Safety Council (www.homesafetycouncil.org), drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional home injury-related death for children under the age of 14. "Drowning is a sudden and silent danger," says Meri-K Appy, Council president. "Anything from buckets and bathtubs to outdoor pools and ponds can be the site of a tragic drowning if children are left unsupervised for any amount of time." The summer season marks the start of outdoor water-related activities and family gatherings around the pool. The Home Safety Council urges families to take the following basic safety precautions: Swimming Safety and Pool Security • Practice constant adult supervision at all times when children are around any body of water. Adults must be within an arm's reach of young children. • Older children should not be left in charge of younger children in the pool area or near water. • Assign specific adults to keep an eye on the pool at all times. When you have pool parties, formally assign adults to pool supervision shifts to ensure the children are watched closely throughout the party. Assigned supervisors should also avoid alcoholic beverages or medication that may impair judgment and/or reaction time. • Install four-sided fencing that isolates the pool from the home. This kind of fencing is proven to be an effective drowning prevention intervention. Pool fencing should be at least five feet high and have self-closing and self-locking gates. • Position gate latches out of the reach of young children, and never prop the gate open or disable the latch. • Clear debris, clutter and pool toys from the pool deck and adjoining pathways to prevent slips and falls. • Keep a cordless, water-resistant telephone in the pool area and post emergency numbers nearby. • Enroll non-swimmers in swimming lessons taught by a qualified instructor. • Never swim alone. Even adults should always swim with a buddy. • Learn and practice lifesaving techniques, including first aid and CPR. Require that anyone who cares for your children learn CPR. • Keep poolside rescue equipment close to the pool area. Water Safety at Home Drowning risk areas inside the home include toilets, bathtubs and any large bucket — and young children are especially vulnerable. The Home Safety Council recommends these safety precautions to keep your children safe from potential water hazards: • Stay within touch supervision around water, always keeping children within an arm's reach. Hazards include buckets, bathtubs, toilets, spas and all standing water. • Practice constant supervision during bath time. Never allow older siblings to supervise children in or around standing water. • Be aware that baby bath seats are not safety devices and should never substitute for adult supervision. • Drain the bathtub immediately after using it. • Keep bathroom doors closed and use door knob covers to prevent young children from accessing bathrooms unsupervised. • Use toilet seat locks and keep toilet lids shut. • Be sure all buckets are emptied immediately after use, turned over with the opening face down, and stored out of children's reach.
Most kids drown under ‘supervision’, research shows A report released in April by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and Johnson & Johnson shows that 88 percent of children who drown are under the supervision of another person, usually a family member. (Supervision was defined as being in the care of another individual, not necessarily in their direct line of sight). While better quality supervision is critical, the study also found that many adults were not properly fencing pools, requiring use of personal flotation devices (PFDs), or teaching their children how to swim. Additionally, SAFE KIDS found that the majority (55 percent) of parents say they are "not at all worried" or "not very worried" about their child drowning. Drowning claims more than 900 children's lives each year, yet survey results showed: • More than half (55 percent) of parents say there are some circumstances where it is acceptable for a child to swim unsupervised. • Even when parents say they are supervising, many are participating in a variety of distracting behaviors including talking to others (38 percent), reading (18 percent), eating (17 percent) and talking on the phone (11 percent). SAFE KIDS recommends that adults take turns serving as the "water watcher" whose sole responsibility is to constantly observe children in or near the water.
Other observations and findings • Many tweens (ages 8-12) admit they never wear a lifejacket when riding on a personal watercraft (50 percent), participating in water sports (37 percent), or on a boat (16 percent). • One in five parents (19 percent) mistakenly believes that air-filled water wings can protect a child from drowning. • Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of drowning victims studied did not know how to swim. Seventy-three percent of victims ages 5-9 and 30 percent of victims ages 10-14 were non-swimmers. • Although the majority of parents agree that all children should have swimming instruction by the age of 8, 37 percent of parents report that their child has never taken lessons. SAFE KIDS recommends that children be enrolled in swimming lessons with a certified instructor by the age of 8.