La Crosse nonprofit group raising thousands of dollars to help recruit lifeguards

Friends of La Crosse Pools and Aquatics is donating $20,000 to the city to raise wages for lifeguards by $2 an hour

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A shortage of lifeguards in La Crosse continues to be an ongoing problem the city is trying to solve.

But a local group is hoping its new effort will end this issue sooner.

Friends of La Crosse Pools and Aquatics is a nonprofit organization with one big goal — supporting our pools.

Members of the group helped raise money to renovate the Veterans Memorial Pool in 2019.

Now, they’re taking the lifeguard shortage problem into their own hands.

In a time of need, there’s nothing wrong with giving a helping hand.

“There’s so many common needs that all the pools, and the staff and the swimmers share,” Friends chairman  Jacob Sciammas said.

A big need for La Crosse’s pools? Having enough lifeguards.

“The toughest part is those busy, hot days where you’re sitting in the stand,” said Claire Dolan, a 20-year-old lifeguard with five years of experience. “This is fun. Yeah…It’s worth it at the end of the day when you get to go home knowing that you maybe made someone’s day better, a little more fun.”

But it’s not fun being short-staffed.

La Crosse parks and rec supervisor Jared Flick says the city has about 55 lifeguards on staff, which is about 20 fewer than needed.

“We do have enough guards right now to kind of have a functional status of the pools,” Flick said.

Pic Lifeguard Fundraiser

It’s a good first job for high school students, Flick said, adding that the low pay is part of what turns them away.

“Right now, I mean everybody’s struggling,” Flick said. “It’s competitive out there.”

The Friends of La Crosse Pools and Aquatics is helping to improve that pay rate by donating $20,000 to the city, raising the wages for lifeguards by $2 an hour.

“We’re here to fill that gap and then set a new standard for the future,” Sciammas said.

Someone has donated $10,000 anonymously, and other people have donated $2,200, Sciammas said. He’s hoping the community will contribute $7,800 more to match the group’s donation.

“We really think it’s one of the higher priorities right now in our community,” Sciammas said.

The higher wages kicked in Friday.

“I think most of them are in shock,” Flick said. “You know you hire them, and you tell them a specific wage. And then you say, ‘You know what? We’re going to give you a $2 raise.’ They’re pretty happy about it.”

Happy about higher pay, and some less stress watching over the pool.

“It’s really exciting,” Dolan said.

The $2 per hour raise is not going towards just lifeguards. Attendants and instructors are also getting these benefits.

Flick says he doesn’t think the higher wages will solve the shortage completely, but they are helping attract lifeguards outside of La Crosse. Some of the city’s lifeguards work seven days a week.

Any remaining money will go toward other priorities such as more training and swim suits, Sciammas said.

If you would like to donate, you can email the group at friendsoflacrossepoolsaquatics@gmail.com, or send a message through the group’s Facebook page. You can also donate through its PayPal giving fund, which also is  on the group’s Facebook page.