When Aqua-Tots Swim Instructor, Hannah Richardson, enters the pool in Orange, California, her mission is to teach children to swim. Sounds obvious enough, but the 21 year old college student didn’t happen upon her position at Aqua-Tots Swim Schools haphazardly. No, swim lessons have been a driving force with Hannah for a third of her life, and that passion goes far beyond the swim school walls, across an ocean, and lands on Corn Island, Nicaragua.
Read Part 1 of Hannah’s story here, and discover how one family vacation sparked a fire in Hannah’s heart to create a swim school for an island surrounded by water and gripped by fear of the unknown.
Read Part 2 of Hannah’s story here, and learn about her unique way of setting two teens up for a lifetime of success, while continuing a legacy with children in and out of the water.
What started out as an effort to teach Corn Island children to swim, triggered by the tragic drowning of an 8 year old girl, quickly grew beyond the shores of the beach. “Most of the children on Corn Island have never owned a swimming suit,” says Hannah. “So I collected donations in California, and distributed them each time I returned. We were given a building to help store donations, and it doubled as a place for the kids to change and shower after lessons at the beach.”
But her drive didn’t stop with free swim lessons and swim attire. “I knew I wanted to do more,” says Hannah. “We began receiving a lot of donations from the public as the media picked up on our story, and I wanted to expand my circle of influence on the island. In June 2017, we created Corn Island Children’s Foundation, an official nonprofit to continue swim lessons on the island, while empowering the youth through love, knowledge and understanding.”
With the help of her assistant on the island, Hannah created a club for girls ages 12-18. Geared toward helping women pursue their dreams of a future, they now offer a women’s group and book club, and perform community service. “It’s our way of helping them help their own community,” says Hannah.
It was through service to these young women that Hannah discovered the island’s need for a library, and in true “Hannah fashion,” she set her sights on the next project. “One of our girl’s club members led the project from Corn Island, and I worked on it from the States,” says Hannah. “The mayor donated a building for the library, and we gathered donations for books, shelves, paint and chairs. We wanted to create a space for the islanders to relax and read. We were able to set up the library in December 2018 and hope to have it staffed and running by August 2019.”
But Hannah’s true passion still lies in education, in and out of the water. “We currently have 40 children active in swim lessons, and this year we created a scholarship program to enroll 16 students in private school. Costs $400 a year for a child on Corn Island to attend private school, and it’s their greatest chance at a future. The students have to apply for the scholarships and maintain good grades. We work to match sponsors with students based on age, interests and longevity of donations, and students and sponsors are encouraged to keep in touch through email. Our goal next year is to enroll 20 to 21 students, and I think we can do it.”
Back at home in the Aqua-Tots Swim Schools pool, many may not realize Hannah’s involvement across the ocean, but her mission is not limited by location, and she offers her students the same cheerful instruction in California as in Nicaragua. “It’s been a lot of fun to work at Aqua-Tots and see the difference in the curriculum from what we teach on the island. In the ocean, the curriculum is based on survival. At Aqua-Tots, the curriculum is based on strokes and skill development which ultimately leads to survival. I want to implement some of what I’ve learned about the details of each stroke and how to advance through the levels into the Corn Island Swim School curriculum. I think I’ll see even better success rates because of it.”
As we close out our series on the remarkable Hannah Richardson, we would be remiss if we withheld one of the greatest lessons she’s learned over the last seven years of serving through swimming. “You’re never too young to make a difference in people’s lives.”
We couldn’t agree more. And with that, we leave you with a story aimed at more than a good read, but a challenge to venture beyond the borders of the familiar to serve those in need, whether in your community, across an ocean, in the water or out. You’re never to young (or old) to make a difference in people’s lives.
To learn more about how you can support Corn Island Children’s Foundation, like them on Facebook.