ENGLEWOOD — Paul DeMello has good days and bad. The bad ones are triggered when he thinks about what his twin boys would look like today. Would they be play sports? Would one be taller than the other?
DeMello recently stood in a packed room at the Rotary Club of Englewood’s annual Wine and Swine fundraiser and explained his 13-month-old boys drowned in their grandmother’s pool.
“It’s with me every day,” he said. “I know my boys are looking down on me.”
DeMello said there have been 44 drownings this year. That’s down from last year.
“Two thirds of them were in backyard swimming pools where their grandparents or other caregivers were present,” he said. “You hear about helicopter moms. They are the ones who hover over their children when they are playing. Well, I love helicopter moms who watch their children like a hawk when they are near a pool or other bodies of water.”
DeMello, who founded Just Against Children Drowning foundation, invited the crowd to his annual Twins Tot Walk at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 16 in Punta Gorda. Monies from the fundraiser will go toward swimming lessons through area YMCAs.
“We are to shut down the Punta Gorda bridge for the 5K walk,” he said. “There will be people there from everywhere to remember all of the children who drowned.”
Blake and Kathy Collingsworth, whose son Joshua died in the family pool, flew in from Nebraska to be at the Rotary’s fundraiser. Blake created the book “Josh the Otter,” which is used by the local Rotary. The club gives the books to young children to help them learn about the “Flip-and-Float” method if they accidentally fall in a pool.
Blake said he didn’t teach his son because he was afraid of the water, however, the Josh the Otter program is dedicated to helping parents work with their children.
Blake reported 50,000 “Josh the Otter” books were sent to Alaska and are now in Brazil. The book has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
The book’s illustrator Ashley Spitsnogle spent the evening at the Englewood Elk’s Lodge painting a scenic one-of-a-kind canvas. Her work was auctioned off. Maria Kalapati, past president of North Port Central Rotary Club, was the highest bidder.
“We are going to have Josh the Baby Otter mascot at the opening of the new aquatic center in North Port,” Kalapati said. “We are happy to be a part of this very worthy program.”