ENGLEWOOD — Josh, the baby otter, wants Vineland Elementary School students to stay safe from drowning.

The Rotary Club of Englewood centers its water safety project around a “Josh the Baby Otter” book presentation developed by the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

Vineland students got to meet Josh Wednesday morning.

Blake, a Nebraska Rotarian, and his wife, Kathy Collingsworth, memorialized through their foundation the death of their 2-year-old son Joshua who died of drowning  on June 4, 2008. Young Joshua went into the family pool three days earlier. 

The Collingsworth believed they had every safety precaution in place, but the reality is that a drowning can occur in mere moments. After losing Joshua, the couple felt compelled to try to  reduce the dramatic number of deaths by drowning that occur in our country and around the world.

Last year in Florida, 88 children died from drowning, the Florida Department of Children and Families reported. Of those children, 10 were less than 1-year-old, 57 were between 1 and 3-years-old, 20 were between 4 and 8-years-old, and one child was older than 9.

The foundation is a means to strengthen water safety awareness and create an early childhood educational program. Their goal — and the goal of the Englewood Rotary chapter — is to empower children to be safe in and around all bodies of water to prevent similar tragedies.

Alfred Current, now a past president of the Englewood chapter who first saw the program in 2016, was hooked.

"Our club wrote a district grant and put ($5,000) into it," Current recalled. "We saw it as an opportunity. We got all the things we could get our hands on."

At Vineland, the Rotarians handed out Josh the Baby Otter books, fans and hand puppets to the students.

Englewood Rotary president Karen Current and fellow Rotarian Carol Peterson read the Josh the Baby Otter children's story to the students. The Rotarians also treated the students to fresh fruit juice and a variety of muffins.

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