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One Cool School

One Cool School
August 2018

The Genesis Project, which teaches kids in rural areas to swim, breaks ground on a Hollywood pool

Construction will begin soon on a permanent pool in Hollywood (rendering above) that’s projected to be the first of three such facilities in the Lowcountry.

A child, probably an African American, will drown this summer. We just don’t know his name yet.” In April of 2014, Tom O’Rourke, then the executive director of the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC), opened a board meeting with this ominous statement. Less than a month later, 13-year-old African-American Genesis Holmes died in a Hollywood pond.

Drowning, the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children, occurs three times more often in rural areas than in cities, according to the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. And it’s not just due to a lack of swimming ability.

For many families, water is something to be feared. “Genesis’s mom, Jennifer, told us that her mother taught her to never go near the water, so she taught her children the same,” says O’Rourke, now executive director of CCPRC’s fundraising arm, The Parklands Foundation. The nonprofit foundation sought Holmes’s assistance with its fledgling effort to offer swimming and water-safety instruction that would eliminate drowning occurrences in the rural areas of Charleston County. In the summer of 2014, the Genesis Project was formally established.

The Parklands Foundation’s Genesis Project uses a portable pool to teach 250 children to swim each summer.

Using a portable pool, the project reaches some 250 kids annually through summer camp programs in Hollywood, McClellanville, and John’s Island. They’ve even kicked up interest from adults, including Holmes. But all of that isn’t enough.

“Everyone deserves a chance to learn to swim, but how can they when there are no pools?” asks project chair and Lowcountry swim instructor Frannie Reese. So on August 29, The Parklands Foundation breaks ground on a $3-million facility for instruction and recreation in Genesis’s hometown. Situated within a complex run by the Town of Hollywood, it’ll serve as many as 10,000 people each season, including daily visitors, swim students, and summer campers.

In addition to a “beach-entry” pool, the center will boast a shelter for activities such as family reunions and church picnics. “I even want a swim team,” declares O’Rourke. And on opening day next summer, Holmes will be there, ready to jump in.


Images courtesy of (pool rendering) Jerry Regenbogen Consulting & (2) Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission