Low-income Minneapolis residents can learn to swim this summer for just $5.

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson, whose office responds to water-related emergencies, has partnered with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to provide the low-cost swimming lessons to city residents. The Water and Ice Safety Education (WISE) program aims to reduce drowning rates, Hutchinson said.

“Low-income children and adults need to learn how to swim. It’s important to reach them when they’re young, especially children of color, who are at a much higher risk of accidental drowning,” Hutchinson said. “That’s something we want to stop.”

The WISE grant will help people to enroll in lessons at various Parks and Recreation locations around Minneapolis. Low-income youth who apply could receive eight swimming classes for $5.

“It’s a life skill that every single Minnesotan should have,” Hutchinson said.

In 2018, there were 40 drownings not related to boating in Minnesota, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

At a news conference announcing the partnership Tuesday, Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura cited a Centers for Disease Control statistic that shows black children are 5.5 times more likely to accidentally drown.

“The upside though, of course, is that the drowning rate drops 88% for young people if they participate in formal swim lessons,” Bangoura said.

Hutchinson said his community engagement team has been busy working with diverse communities in Minneapolis.

For instance, they plan to host a program later this summer at Phillips Community Pool for Muslim women. During that time, the pool would be closed to men, and the windows will be covered, “so they’ll feel safe and secure in their religion,” Hutchinson said.

“We want them to get some lessons so they can teach their kids how to swim,” Hutchinson said.

In 2018, more than 2,000 people participated in Park Board learn-to-swim programs, said Bangoura. He hopes that the WISE program’s low cost will draw even more families. The grant-funded program has a budget of about $20,000.

“If we can save one child’s life with this program, mission accomplished, in my opinion,” Hutchinson said.

Every family in Minnesota should be able to fully enjoy the summer months, he said.

“I grew up swimming on the lakes and these new communities that are moving here, they should be able to enjoy the lakes, rivers, boats and water skis,” he said.

In the future, the WISE program hopes to partner with more cities. For information on how to apply for affordable swimming lessons, visit the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Community Involvement website at bit.ly/30qrCSs.