Swim program launched in honour of Shepparton's Hunter Boyle

A pilot program to teach swimming to children whose families may not otherwise be able to afford to do so was launched in Shepparton on Monday.

The pilot Hunter Boyle Children’s Swim Program was launched by Shepparton couple Ash Napolitano and Matt Boyle, with the support of Kidsafe Victoria, in honour of their two-year-old son Hunter, after he drowned in a dam in August last year.

It provides children with free swimming lessons for 12 months, as well as water safety education and swimming accessories for them and their parents.

Twenty Goulburn Valley youngsters are expected to take part in the pilot program, with a partnership with The Bridge Youth Service choosing young mums aged under 25 years, with children under five years to participate.

Ms Napolitano and Mr Boyle are pleased to be able to launch the program to help other families who would not otherwise be able to pay for swimming lessons for their children.

“We want to save lives. To stop parents and families going through what we’re going through,” Mr Boyle said.

“Hunter hasn’t died in vain.

“To get a positive spin on something so negative is overwhelming.”

Ms Napolitano said they wanted to honour their son.

“We could not think of anything better to do to honour Hunter’s life,” she said.

“His death resonated with so many in the community.”

Ms Napolitano works with The Bridge Youth Services and knows how much the program could help some people.

“A lot of people struggle to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, fuel in the car. Although swimming lessons are so important, they take a back seat,” she said.

“It’s about giving kids those opportunities.

“We don't want Hunter to just be another statistic and without Kidsafe our idea would be just that - still an idea.

“We are so proud to launch this program, which will help to save lives.

“The Shepparton community has been incredible and assisted us in raising over $40,000 to kick start the program.

“We can't wait to see what else we can do in Hunter's name - this is only the beginning.”

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for Australian children under five years.

Victoria is currently experiencing the highest childhood drowning rate in more than 20 years, with 13 children aged up to 14 years drowning in the six months between July 2020 and January 2021.

Kidsafe Victoria chief executive officer Melanie Courtney highlighted the dangers that water can pose for children.

“Twenty seconds and a few centimetres of water is all it takes for a toddler to drown,” she said.

“This means that dams, rivers, water tanks, animal drinking troughs, fish ponds, and even pet’s water bowls can all pose a potential drowning hazard.”

Ms Courtney emphasised the vital role that swimming programs play in keeping children safe in and around water and the importance of ensuring that all families have access to them.

“Water familiarisation and swimming classes play an important role in helping children to become confident around water, while also teaching them water safety and survival skills,” she said.

“The more children we have in Victoria who are equipped with these vital skills, the more impact we will see in terms of a reduction in drowning rates.

“We are proud to partner with Ash and Matt - their bravery, strength and dedication will not only provide local children with the opportunity to learn these skills, but will also go a long way to saving lives.”

Bridge Youth Services chief executive officer Melinda Lawley praised Ms Napolitano and Mr Boyle for understanding that costs could be a barrier for some people when it came to their children having swimming lessons, and doing something to help.

While starting off locally, Ms Napolitano and Mr Boyle hope to continue to fundraise for the program with annual events each year.

They thanked everyone involved in fundraising so far, including community members, businesses and Greater Shepparton City Council.