Skip to main content



It’s a Thursday afternoon at the Maplewood Family YMCA. The pool is filled with kids learning how to swim. It’s not your typical swim lesson, though. The new swimmers are children of refugees.

“This isn’t an opportunity a lot of these kids have,” said Charlsey Bickett, executive director of Mary’s Place Outreach. “It’s so important for us to introduce water safety to them because a lot of their parents don’t know how to swim.”

Rochester is home to thousands of refugees. Mary’s Place has been helping  families in the Rochester area for a decade, serving around 500 of them each year. They provide English classes, job skills classes and clothing distribution. They also offer a free camp to the children every summer.

“We take for granted kids just being able to be kids. The children of immigrants take on a lot of responsibility. They’re calling the landlords, paying bills, calling doctors since they tend to learn English before their parents.”

This is where the Y comes in. A couple of years ago, the Maplewood Y received a grant from the Y of USA for the Safety Around Water program. The program helps kids learn essential skills to satisfy their curiosity of water safely.

“These kids are special because typically they’ve never been in a swim lesson before, or they don’t have a swimsuit, or they haven’t been able to access this type of program,” said Meg Switzer, Urban District Aquatics Director.


Along with providing these lessons at no cost, the Y provides rides to and from the branch. They also make sure that every child has a swimsuit and a towel – another way of breaking down a barrier that would otherwise prevent these children from learning to swim. This is made possible thanks to area businesses and organizations, like Sage Rutty & Company holding collection drives.

(Caroline Hill, of Sage Rutty & Company, with Megan DeFranco, of the
YMCA of Greater Rochester, dropping off their donations from their collection drive)

“A lot of our families live paycheck to paycheck, and a swimsuit can be an expense. Sometimes they don’t have enough for shampoo. If they don’t have money for shampoo, they’re not going to have money for a swimsuit,” said Bickett. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without the YMCA.”

The swimsuit also represents something that is truly theirs and becomes a sense of pride for the swimmers.  That pride shines through ever splash and stroke.

“I love to see the confidence they gain as part of this program,” said Switzer. “And they wouldn’t have this opportunity to learn a life-long skill if it wasn’t for the generosity of others.”