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Special Olympian, Layla Crehan

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Women Making Waves

Baby Otter Swim School seeks to eliminate childhood drownings in Florida—one student at a time

For over 40 years, Baby Otter Swim School founders Mindy York and Marlene Bloom have been dedicated to keeping children safe in Florida's many bodies of water.

“Our mission is to make Florida a zero-drowning state,” says Bloom.

The idea for Baby Otter Swim School began in 1975, stemming from Bloom's safety concerns about her two-year-old daughter around pools. At the time, many swim schools wouldn't teach children younger than three years old.

However, drowning continued to be the leading cause of death for children ages one to four. Even today, the Florida Department of Health estimates that the number of children who die from drowning every year could fill three or four preschool classrooms.

“As an educator, I decided I needed to do something about that. I didn't want to lose my daughter if one time I was not there to pull her out,” Bloom says.

Bloom used her educational background and passion for swimming to develop a program that allowed children as young as nine months to learn how to save themselves if they fell into the water.

A few years later, York (Bloom's good friend) experienced an incident where her daughter disappeared at a community pool.

“I turned for one second and she was gone. She had literally walked down the steps of the pool,” York says. York found her daughter at the bottom of the pool, quickly got her out and performed CPR. “It wasn’t pretty, but I was able to bring her back. I'm one of the lucky parents, but not many are.”

The incident was a catalyst for York's involvement with Baby Otter Swim School.

Bloom and York joined forces, combining Bloom’s educational know-how with York’s business development experience to grow the Baby Otter brand.

When Bloom and York leased a pool in South Florida, families traveled to their training facility in Fort Lauderdale. Bloom and York quickly realized the need for instructors to provide private lessons at local homes.

The business took off once they did not renew the facility and offered traveling lessons exclusively.

 “We became Florida's premier traveling swim school,” says York. Baby Otter received special certification to conduct lessons in public pools throughout Florida.

York says Baby Otter Swim School is the world’s fastest learn-to-swim program. Using the proprietary Turn, Kick, Reach method, students can learn to swim in two and a half hours over five days.

“It's a curriculum system developed by an educator. The programs are based on lesson plans for a child to develop over those five days,” says York. This lesson-plan-based program led many former teachers to become full-time swim instructors with Baby Otter.

York and Bloom are dedicated to providing a safe space for children of all abilities to learn how to swim.

When one mom was told her children would never learn how to swim due to their autism, she turned to Baby Otter. Her children not only completed the program but also joined the swim team. Her daughter later competed in the Florida Special Olympics, winning over a dozen medals.

Baby Otter’s roster of former students also includes former Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre “The Hawk” Dawson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter, Apple.

With four decades under their belts, Bloom and York don't have plans to slow down. They moved their operations to the Winter Garden area in 2019 and have partnered with several local resorts to offer swim lessons for families on vacation. They are dedicated to investing their time, money, and effort into growing the business to help eliminate childhood drownings in Florida.

Bloom and York knew they couldn't make Florida a zero-drowning state alone. In 2022, they franchised to reach even more families across the state. The company sold 15 territories in its first year and hopes to double that in 2024. These franchises cover territories throughout South and Central Florida and Long Island, New York. 

“The more people we can help become successful entrepreneurs, The more children will be safe from drowning," says York.

In addition to investing in more franchises, Baby Otter looks to open a new training center in Central Florida. The facility will be a place to train instructors in a weather-proof environment while providing a safe space for children with special needs and families without access to private or community pools to learn how to swim.

For those interested in getting involved, the company is currently seeking franchise owners, donations and corporate sponsorships.

Bloom and York believe swim lessons are an investment in the future. Swim lessons allow children to be safe around Florida's waterways. Franchise owners invest in a company with a forty-year legacy and a proven technique that allows students to learn to swim quickly.

“Swimming is a life-saving skill,” says Bloom, one that's priceless. | | 1-888-SWIM-KID

The more people we can help become successful entrepreneurs, The more children will be safe from drowning.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to four. The Florida Department of Health estimates the number of children who die from drowning every year could fill three preschool classrooms.

  • Special Olympian, Layla Crehan
  • Special Olympian, Layla Crehan

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