Please share your story on creating the ZAC Foundation and how you work so hard to save children's lives.
Ten years ago, I lost my 6-year-old son Zachary Archer Cohn to a drowning when his arm became trapped by the powerful suction of our own backyard pool drain. Zachary, like many other children who have become entrapped, was a strong and proficient swimmer, but swimming skills are not enough to combat the hundreds of pounds of force that cause an entrapment.
As parents, we thought we did everything we could to protect our children around water – like enrolling our kids in swimming classes, laying out the rules of the pool and insuring intense supervision. We never heard of the potential dangers lying just below the surface.
That’s why we started The ZAC Foundation – named in honor of our little boy – to teach parents and children across the country the important safety lessons they need to know before going near the water.
Over the past decade, through a local partnership with the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich that grew into a national one with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and most recently the American Red Cross, our Foundation has taught more than 10,000 children important water safety skills and educated tens of millions more by sharing our message through the media.
What are your most important lessons related to pool safety?
Swimming is a fun and healthy activity that we encourage all families to engage in together – but safely. Many families will create emergency plans for fires or poor weather but not necessarily one for water safety. We believe every family should have a safe swimming plan and include the ABC&Ds of Water Safety.
· A is for Adult: An adult should always be present when children are swimming. Eyes need to be on the water at all times. No one should ever swim alone.
· B is for Barrier: Barriers keep children away from water dangers and all swimmers should be taught not to enter a pool or spa area until an adult has opened the gate.
· C is for Classes: Take water safety classes, CPR and First Aid as a family. Additionally, all family members should take swimming lessons to learn basic strokes, floating and treading water, and how to get out the water in the event of an emergency.
· D is for Drains: Drains can be dangerous so make sure all swimmers stay away from pool and spa drains so they do not become trapped. Further, if a drain cover is loose or broken, the pool or spa operator should be notified immediately and the facility be shut down until the drain cover is repaired.
How can our followers learn more about water safety?
The ZAC Foundation website provides resources, teaching materials, handouts and lessons about water safety for families and educators. Here you can also learn more about drain entrapment and how to protect your family from these dangers just below the surface.
Families should also check out their local American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club or YMCA for water safety classes and CPR training. Many of these classes are free or only require a small fee.
On a more personal note, what are the values you would like to instill in your children?
Honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, compassion and humility are the core values I aim to teach and model for my children each and every day. Zachary certainly embodied those at his young age. While it was such a tragedy to lose our beautiful little boy, his memory lives on in each program and initiative we do not only in our water safety community but also in our local community. It humbles me to watch my three other children - Jenna, Henry and Sydney – carry on Zachary’s legacy through our Foundation. I know Zachary’s life and the values he exemplified live in their hearts.
What are your favorite kid-friendly vacation spots?
Undergoing such a loss as family with Zachary’s drowning, many ask us if we would ever go back in the water, but just as Zachary loved to swim, our family very much enjoys swimming together. In a way, it is an activity that brings us closer. Near our hometown of Greenwich, there are lots of great beaches. We regularly visit those as a family.
In the winter months, we love to ski and have been to many mountains from Vermont to Colorado and Montana. Learning to ski at a young age, like swimming, is a great skill to have and is great exercise!
How do you like to spend your time for yourself?
I love reading and almost any form of exercise. I try to be open-minded in taking new classes with friends and neighbors whether it is spinning, running or hot yoga. There are so many options out there! I also enjoy just being outside and living an active lifestyle with my family.
What are your favorite children's books?
I have a few favorite children’s books for a variety of reasons. “Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch is a story about a mother’s endless love for her child, which truly touches my heart.
While it was published in 1940, I loved sharing the timeless book “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina with my family. It is a great fun book to read out loud and laugh together. Another favorite of ours is “Going to Bed Book” by Sandra Boynton – I have read it to my children so many times, that I have it memorized. It is just a sweet book about getting ready for bed.
How can our followers get further involved and promote your incredible organization?
Oh there are so many ways and we hope more will get involved in our mission! We encourage you to join us in this fight by being informed, being vocal, educating your families, and advocating for better pool safety standards for our children.
We partner with a variety of local outreach programs across the country to host what we call ZAC Camps. These are weeklong water safety programs for children ages 5-9. If you’re interested in learning how you can bring a ZAC Camp to your community, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit us at www.TheZACFoundation.com where you can find interactive games and lessons on water safety.
Teach Your Family Important Water Safety Lessons
Speaking of great children’s books, my husband Brian and I co-authored the Polar Bear Who Couldn’t, Wouldn’t Swim to teach little ones about the ABC&Ds of Water Safety.
The story follows the journey of a polar bear that is afraid to swim but then falls in love with swimming after learning important safety lessons from his zoo friends. In fact, the lead character, Zeke, was inspired by Zachary’s favorite polar bear stuffed animal that he carried everywhere with him. My other three children have small roles in the book as well! It is a great book to check out if you have small children and all proceeds go to water safety education.
Know if the Pool or Spa Your Swimming in is Safe
One the most important ways you can get involved in our mission is to educate yourself about pool and spa safety requirements. For public pools and spas, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act governs how those pools and spas are constructed to prevent entrapment, but that only accounts for roughly 2 percent of pools and spas in our country.
However, state laws govern the majority of pools and spas–over 14 million in fact. Some states have very strong laws that require many layers of protection to keep swimmers safe from entrapment, but sadly many states have weak laws, and the pool and spa industry actively works to deteriorate these laws. That’s why it is so important that you know the difference between a safe drain and dangerous drain, the significance of anti-entrapment drain covers and the need for additional layers of protection like emergency shut off switches.
We created a helpful tutorial to help you learn about your pool or spa. Take a look here!
Connect With Us
We love hearing from families! We have partnered with family foundations or even individuals looking to bring more water safety lessons or programs to their communities. If you have ideas or want to stay connected with us about our programming, educational resources or the work we are doing in your community, “Like us on Facebook” and talk with us on Twitter!