Anne Foster is helping thousands of children learn water safety skills

A person can drown in an instant, whether they’re in the Pacific Ocean, the Wishkah River, a creek, a pool or a bathtub. It’s why teaching people how to swim is important around Grays Harbor County, an area surrounded by water.

Teaching them young could help them throughout their entire lives. That’s what Anne Foster, a local donor wants to accomplish. She wants to make sure they know how to swim from early elementary school age. So far, she’s helped a lot.

The YMCA of Grays Harbor hosted 5,229 children — kindergarten through third grade — throughout the county with “safety around water skills” between 2011 and 2023.

“In 2018-19 alone, nearly 1,000 youth went through the program with over 7,500 swim lessons being taught during that school year,” said Franzine Potts, CEO and executive director of YMCA of Grays Harbor. “During the 2023-24 school year, we are estimating over 1,200 kids to go through the Water Safety Program. (It would) be our biggest year since the program started in 2011. This doesn’t include the additional students who participate through the Aberdeen School District Swim Program. This school year, through all school district programs, nearly 2,000 kids will have participated in the Safety Around Water Program.”

Much of it is thanks to Anne Foster’s huge heart — she has endowed more than $1 million to the YMCA of Grays Harbor in order to get the county’s school districts, plus St. Mary School, in Aberdeen, time in the pool. According to the YMCA’s statistics, they’ve served 13 districts.

Anne Foster, of Montesano, has been swimming for a long time. She started as a girl and swimming has become a lifelong passion for her.

“When I went to school here in Aberdeen, I was there through junior high and we swam every year,” Anne Foster said.

In her later years that she is experiencing, she still heads to the pool, for an hour or so, a couple times per week. She knows the importance of being able to swim and how to stay safe around the water.

“I hate seeing in the newspaper that somebody drowned,” Anne Foster said.

Unfortunately, with an area surrounded by water — creeks, rivers, Grays Harbor itself and the Pacific Ocean — and one that’s prone to occasional flooding, it’s a safety hazard that won’t go away. And on days with such a clear sky, and warm temperatures as Monday and this past weekend were, people are in the mood to hit the water in some capacity. Anne Foster knows that.

“On days like today, people think it’s beautiful outside, so they get in the water and they (can end up) drowning,” Anne Foster said.

Kevin Schrader, undersheriff for Grays Harbor County, weighed in on the threat of drowning throughout the area.

“I would guess that we see one to two drownings each year in Grays Harbor County,” Schrader said. “The last drowning that I recall taking place happened at Aberdeen Lake and it was reported in June of 2023 during a kayaking incident.”

On June 10, Aaron Lewis, a 43-year-old man from Hoquiam, was in his kayak when it overturned about 100 yards from the boat ramp, according to reporting from The Daily World. Lewis, who drowned, was not wearing a lifejacket.

While the water is much too cold for it to be a summer kind of day where everybody’s in the water, the cold water doesn’t stop people from going in. Nicole Evanson, senior director of aquatics and safety at the YMCA of Grays Harbor, explained.

“Even when the weather is warm, our water here is very cold,” Evanson said. “So, it’s important for kids and families to know how to be safe in and around the water.”

On Monday, St. Mary School and Hoquiam School District students were there.

And then besides the lessons, another essential part of how her endowment has helped the YMCA is how the students get there. Children from as far west as North Beach, as north as Lake Quinault and as far east as Mary M. Knight in Elma come to Hoquiam to jump in the water.

“Something that we learned is that there are barriers for schools,” Evanson said. “Some of the barriers include transportation, you know, for them to come here. That’s a really big expense. Besides the cost of the instructors and the pool and things, them coming to the Y, transportation is really expensive and it’s continuing to increase. We’ve heard (that) from schools.”

The pandemic caused a dip in the number of students at the YMCA in 2020 and 2021, but since then they’ve been able to get back on track. But still, transportation was a problem.

“So do they have enough bus drivers, and things like that,” Evanson said. “That’s one of the ways they’ve helped to support it. The other piece is we also support locker room supervision, because sometimes it’s a female teacher coming (here) or a male teacher coming (here). We want kids to be safe here at the Y, so we want to have a staff member there to make sure we can supervise.”

And then, Evanson detailed a few of the skills the YMCA teaches.

“Three of the important skills that we teach that are kind of our signature skills are: submerging; and then swim, float, swim; and jump, push, turn, grab,” Evanson said. “We want to make sure that kids can do all of those things, because if they’ve fallen somewhere or someone pushes them in, or maybe they slip, we want to know that they can go under the water without panicking. And then if they get tired, right? They swim and sometimes they get tired, and then we want to make sure they can swim back, along with jumping in the pool, pushing off the bottom, turning around and grabbing the wall. Those are really important skills for them to learn.”

And then some safety topics, according to Potts, include:

Reach or throw, don’t go

Life jackets

Backyard pools

Swim with a buddy

“The current balance of the endowment is over $1 million,” Potts said. “The entire fund was created and supported solely by Anne Foster. During the 2023-24 school year, over $70,000 was awarded in scholarships to local school districts to teach safety around water skills to students.”

Will Foster, Anne Foster’s husband, sat there beaming with pride over Anne helping so many students. As for her thoughts on seeing all of the students she and the Y have helped so far, and will continue to help?

“I love it,” Anne Foster said. “It’s fabulous.”

For people who are curious how they can support this program, which does so much more, please contact Franzine Potts directly at, by phone at 360-537-9622 (ext. 111) or by fax at 360-533-2471.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at