Hope Floats Foundation Launches Fitz Scholars Fund for Water Safety

drowning
Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

The Hope Floats Foundation and the family of the late Fitz Alexander Campbell Thomas have launched the Fitz Scholars Fund to expand access to potentially life-saving swimming instruction.

The fund is named after Fitz Thomas, a 16-year-old who drowned in the Potomac River in Leesburg, Va., on June 4. His mother, pastor and activist Michelle C. Thomas, has used the grief from her son’s death to partner with Hope Floats to, “expand access for children from disadvantaged families to participate in swim lessons; empower children to safely enjoy the water; and help to prevent this terrible tragedy from happening to other families across our country.”

Via the Hope Floats Foundation website, people can donate to the Fitz Scholars Fund, or apply to receive funds as a Fitz Scholar.

Fitz Thomas was swimming with friends in June, shortly after completing his junior year of high school, when he slipped under the current in the Potomac River. After a delayed 911 response to distress calls from friends due to jurisdictional confusion, Thomas’s death has inspired various proposals for reform. Michelle C. Thomas, a pastor and the president of the Loudon County (Va.) chapter of the NAACP, has led the charge for accountability and to try to prevent others from suffering Fitz’s fate.

The partnership with the Hope Floats Foundation, a national non-profit devoted to water safety, is an extension of that. Drowning remains a leading cause of accidental death among children, and those outcomes are exacerbated in low-income situations or communities of color.

“Fitz really enjoyed open water,” Michelle C. Thomas told Loudoun Now. “He enjoyed beaches, he enjoyed traveling and seeing new beaches, he was just a free spirit. I would love for everyone to enjoy the passion that he had about nature and swimming, the enthusiasm that he shared about teaching others to swim and giving others the experiences that come with the luxury of learning how to swim.”

A $50 gift to the Fitz Scholars Fund provides three weeks of swim lessons. A gift of $200 provides one scholarship recipient a full 12-week curriculum of lessons.

“When I first heard the news of Fitz’s passing, I knew I had to do something,” said Cindy Tonnesen, co-founder of SwimKids Swim School and founder and board chairwoman of the Hope Floats Foundation. “I also have a son Fitz’s age, and this is the community where we have been teaching water safety education for over 20 years. So, I wrote Pastor Michelle a letter, mother to mother, just to maybe give her a glimmer of hope that together there would be a way that we could find to honor him and pay it forward.”

To learn more, visit the Fitz Scholars Fund page at the Hope Floats Foundation site.

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