FAIRFIELD COUNTY — Duke Energy has partnered with Children’s Trust of South Carolina to launch life jacket loaner kiosks on Lake Wateree.
Children’s Trust of South Carolina is home to Safe Kids South Carolina and a significant part of their work is preventing unintentional injuries to keep children safe.
The program is jointly sponsored by Lake Wateree Presbyterian Church, Lake Wateree Baptist Church and the Lake Wateree Home Owners Association of Fairfield County.
From 2006 to 2010, drowning was the third leading cause of death for children under the age of 14. Although Lake Wateree has been fortunate over the past 25 years to have experienced very few drowning deaths, the Lake Wateree Home Owners Association recognizes the potential is always there.
Life jackets in a variety of sizes for children and adults are available at four heavily used areas on the lake including Wateree Creek, Taylor Creek, June Creek and Colonel Creek access areas. Visitors can check out a life jacket at no charge and then return it to the kiosk when they are finished.
David Yezbak, chairman of the Children’s Trust board of directors, was happy to attend the life jacket loaner board dedication at the Taylor Creek access.
“I am very pleased to be here,” Yezbak said. “I’m excited about expanding the life jacket loaner board program to Lake Wateree. In the summer when we talk about safety, we have to talk about water safety.”
Drowning can happen at any time during the year, but especially during the summer when there is an 89 percent increase of danger. Three children die each day as a result of drowning in the United States.
One goal of the loaner program is to educate boaters and lake users about the importance of using life jackets while on or around the water.
Scott Jolley, Duke Energy’s public safety recreation and design project manager, talked about his experience with the program and the difference it has made.
“I’ve witnessed first hand life jackets being used and returned by both adults and children,” Jolley noted. “It is very satisfying to know we are helping to spread boating and swimming safety.”
The Keese family brought the program to South Carolina after two family members drowned in 2010 during a storm on Stockton Lake in Missouri. Neither was wearing a life jacket.
Craig Keese told a powerful and personal story about the loss of his son, Brian Keese, and his grandson, Nathan Keese. During March 2010, Craig had one final conversation with his son. Brian told his dad that he was taking his son, Nathan (Craig’s grandson), fishing that weekend. Brian also told his father he had bought a gift for him.
Tragically, that weekend Brian and Nathan drowned in a boating accident. It took almost a year of grieving before Craig could open the gift purchased by his deceased son. The green track pants inside a wrapped box provided the final present from a son to a father.
After holding a family meeting the Keeses decided they wanted to make a difference. Determined to help others avoid a similar tragedy, the Keese family has become a proactive advocate for water safety. After extensive discussions, the Department of Natural Resources recommended setting up life jacket loaner boards and teaming up with Safe Kids.
Craig knows that the loaner boards are only the first step in water safety. The second step is educating people about all the possible dangers around water.
“Nobody comes to the lake thinking it’s a good day to drown,” Craig noted. “It doesn’t happen like that. People don’t debate seatbelts in cars and they shouldn’t debate life jackets around water.”
Rick Noble of the Lake Wateree Home Owners Association said it was a good idea to collaborate with Children’s Trust for the life jacket loaner boards.
“We’re here because Craig Keese and his family are doing heroic work,” Noble stated. “He is like the Johnny Appleseed of these loaner boards and I hope he keeps going until we get them all over South Carolina.”
Demonstrating on children, DNR officers showed how to properly put on life jackets. With his jacket secured, 3-year old, Bracey Bellamy grinned at his father, Eric Bellamy (Children’s Trust Staff), and cutely said, “Look, Daddy, I have a life jacket.”
Anyone interested in bringing the life jacket loaner board program to their lake community can contact Heidi Vaughn, Safe Kids South Carolina coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-744-4029.
Reach staff writer Lucas Vance at 635-4016, ext. 15, or at email@example.com.