Life Jackets Make Young Moms Healthy Families Picnic-In-The-Park Day Safer

Life Jackets Make Young Moms Healthy Families Picnic-In-The-Park Day Safer

Young Moms Healthy Families is a free, voluntary program that serves Van Buren and Searcy Counties of Arkansas. This program enrolls women who are pregnant or families who have children younger than three months old. Through the program, families are supported through home visits and monthly group gatherings like the one held at Tyler Bend, during which staff provide information about what to expect during pregnancy, how your child grows and learns, learning activities you can do with your child, and much more. Raising kids can be expensive, so the program helps connect families to resources that can help them and offers incentives in which families can earn diapers, wipes, books, and toys by participating in program activities.

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Significantly, all of the children attending the event (except the tiniest) took advantage of Buffalo National River Park’s new Sea Tow Foundation Life Jacket Loaner Program and borrowed a personal flotation device to insure that their visit was not only enjoyable but safe. These life jackets are available in infant to adult extra larger sizes at the Tyler Bend Visitor Center and at the Buffalo Point Visitor Contact Station and can be checked out by any visiting families.

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Another way Life jackets are used is for a local community pool program where children of all ages learn about swimming and many aspects of water safety.

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The Life Jacket Loaner Program was initiated following the drowning of a five-year-old boy. On July 20, 2015, Park Guide Terry Traywick had a father with two little boys come into the Visitor Center asking where they could swim. This is an everyday occurrence at the park and guide showed them where they could swim. About 10 minutes later, a call was received that a five-year old was unresponsive on the gravel bar. Park Guide Traywick and Park Ranger Joyce Umbach, along with several other visitors, performed CPR but unfortunately the boy passed away. Park Ranger Umbach told their District Ranger and Deputy Superintendent that she didn’t want his death to be for nothing and the park started the process of implementing a Life Jacket Loaner Program.

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Park Ranger Joyce Umbach of Buffalo National River Park (pictured) applied to Sea Tow Foundation for a Life Jacket Loaner Program Grant in late 2015 and in early 2016 was awarded life jackets and life jacket stand.

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Feedback from Young Moms and Healthy Families and the community has been positive.

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A mom said that they came in to borrow a life jacket when her daughter’s friend came to visit. The family had life jackets, but none of them fit the friend so they were not going to be able to swim. That’s when her daughter told her “But Mom, we can borrow one at the visitor center.” The daughter learned about the life jacket stand from safety program at the Marshall Elementary School managed by Park Ranger Umbach.

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On July 20, 2016, the first anniversary of the boy’s death, Park Guide Terry Traywick was again in the Visitor Center when another father with two little boys came and asked where they could swim. She showed them where they could swim and asked if they had life jackets. The mother said they did, but the father said he didn’t think they fit them. The mother kept saying they would fit and they would be fine. Park Guide Traywick pointed to the life jacket stand behind them and asked them to please fit the boys with a life jacket and take them with them. Explaining that this is a loaner program and that is why we have them for visitors to use. The parents and Traywick fitted the boys with life jackets and they went out the door prepared for a fun day of swimming- Traywick went back to her desk and cried, thankful that they had the life jackets for them to use.

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Buffalo River National Park is located in Arkansas and surrounded by the Ozark Mountains and offers floating, flying, hiking, and riding adventures in the park. Watchable wildlife includes Arkansas Elk Herd, deer, black bear, eagle and innumerable fish and bird species.

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Sea Tow Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created to promote safe boating practices and has distributed more than 35,000 life jackets to boaters across the country since 2008 with the help of volunteers including: Sea Tow Captains, US Power Squadrons, various organizations, and boating agencies throughout the United States and territories. These stands are placed in locations where boaters will have easy access to the life jackets, such as boat ramps, marinas, and parks.

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Boaters may borrow the life jackets at no cost and are asked to return them when they are done so that they are available for others to use. These life jackets are purchased through a grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, as administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. They are distributed to volunteer hosts who make them available to boaters free of charge.

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The Life Jacket Loaner program has three components:
1) Life Jacket Drive, which hosts ask their community to donate new and gently used jackets.
2) Life Jacket Grant, which offers boating agencies and nonprofit organization the opportunity to receive life jackets and stands at no charge.
3) Life Jacket Partnership, which offers life jackets and stand for a fee along with a manual and technical support.

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For more information about the Sea Tow Foundation Life Jacket Loaner Program click “What We Do” above.

Written by  Michael Wesolowski

Sea Tow Foundation Executive Director

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