U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and “Lowe’s Heroes” Volunteers Team-up for Child Safety on the Water

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BM1 Mark DeBonis and BM3 Corey Renninger of the USCG frame a storage unit. Photo by Steve Hewitt.

Coast Guard Auxiliarists and Lowes Home Improvement of Manahawkin and Toms River, NJ combined missions to promote and expand the national “Kids Don’t Float” life jacket loaner program in Southern Ocean County, New Jersey.

Article by Auxiliarist Allison Revy, Jr., Whiting, NJ

Recently,  Auxiliarists and volunteers from the “Lowe’s Heroes” program in Manahawkin and Toms River, NJ gathered at Lowe’s Manahawkin to further boating safety and “Kids Don’t Float.”

Lowe's volunteers fitting doors to storage unit. Photo by Steve Hewitt.

One of the primary mission of the Auxiliary is to promote the U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Safe Boating(RBS) Outreach programs, while the “Lowe’s Heroes” mission is to improve the communities where Lowe’s customers and employees work and live. Combining efforts to further the national “Kids Don’t Float” program, which allows boaters to borrow children’s life jackets at no charge, seemed a natural fit and satisfied both missions.

The life jacket program, which began in 1996 in Homer, AK, has gained in popularity throughout the United States and Canada. The program provides for placing a life jacket storage container at participating marinas or docks. There boaters may borrow children’s life jackets with the only obligation being to return the jacket at the end of day.

In 2009 Auxiliarist Fred Jaekel in Lacey, NJ, began a “Kids Don’t Float” undertaking by placing life jacket containers at five local marinas. For his efforts in spearheading and promoting the “Kids Don’t Float” program, Auxiliarist Jaekel was named the Division 7 “Auxiliarist of the Year” for 2010.

Auxiliarist Maurice Kiely (center) presents Joe Arena (Lowe's Manahawkin) and Tex Willis (Lowe's Toms River) with certificates of appreciation. Looking on, left to right, are: USCG BM1 Mark Debonis, Auxiliarist Ken Kendall and NJSP Marine Bureau Trooper Brian Weinert. Photo by Malcolm Leslie.

In 2010 the New Jersey boating accident and fatality statistics experienced an upswing and 2011 saw a rash of boating accidents and fatalities in local waters.

These factors resulted in new inquiries into the loaner program and additional Auxiliary flotillas seeking to assist. After surveying marine facilities in their areas, Auxiliary flotillas were able to identify additional maritime facilities interested in participation in “Kids Don’t Float”.  Also, the “Kids Don’t Float” program was chosen by the local “Lowe’s Heroes” as their newest community project.

Auxiliarist Maurice Kiely began Saturday’s event with a short welcome and thank you ceremony, made introductions and awarded Certificates of Appreciation to the managers of the two participating Lowe’s centers.

Lowe’s volunteers constructed storage containers, while Auxiliarists provided assistance where needed. Auxiliary members were responsible for the transportation and installation of containers at volunteering marinas. To help overcome transport scheduling problems, Lowe’s provided storage for those completed units awaiting transportation.

Three storage units were completed and several partially assembled. Lowe’s has scheduled another building session with the objective of completing 19 additional units.

Partially finished unit on display. Photo by Malcolm Leslie.

Also at the event, the New Jersey State Police Marine Services Bureau distributed New Jersey boating information, while Auxiliarists provided a boating safety display. Crewmen from U.S. Coast Guard Station Barnegat Light assisted with construction and members of the Boy Scouts of America Jersey Shore Council pitched in.

As a result of the “Kids Don’t Float” activities, neighboring Auxiliary units and the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey have expressed interest in participating in the “Kids Don’t Float” life jacket program.

As part of its 2012 RBS Outreach plans, the Auxiliary expects to expand the loaner program and establish a method of promoting the location of participating sites. The program will be integrated into the Auxiliary’s safe boating initiatives along with their public education classes, vessel safety checks and on-the-water safety patrols.


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