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Great-grandmother makes it her mission to highlight drowning prevention awareness

Posted at 6:36 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 18:36:12-05

Shirley Harold dedicated her life to her family.

At 68, she has 9 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

For Harold though there’s no one like J’mari.

“J’mari is my first great gran,” explains Harold.

The last time she saw him was in December of 2008 on a day she says she can’t forget.

Now she says she thinks about him, “everyday, and especially if I hear about a drowning it just stirs it up.”

J’mari drowned in a backyard pool when he was just 2 years old.

The loss devastated Harold, but in that pain she’s found purpose.

“Instead of going out to the gravesite every day and crying over it and whining, he said get up and do something and that’s when J’mari and Friends was born,” says Harold.

J’mari would be 15 this year, and in the time that’s passed Harold has used her organization, J’mari and Friends, to offer free swim lessons and water safety education.

So far Harold says she’s helped, “hundreds, wherever there is an event where I can go spread the word, I go.”

Anna Stewart from Palm Beach County’s Drowning Prevention Coalition says Harold,” inspires me on a daily basis.”

Harold is driven by unsettling stats, according to the YMCA 3,500 people die in accidental drownings every year.

Stewart says, “Nationwide, African American drownings are two times more likely than any other race.”

Harold has teamed up with county leaders and other non-profit organizations to get the word out about free or reduced cost swim lessons typically offered every April through the Drowning Prevention Coalition.

All these years later if there’s one thing she wants J’mari to know, it's that “I’m making a difference and I’m trying to keep some of your friends alive,” says Harold.

She's helping keep countless friends and a memory alive and well.

For a look at ways to protect your kids around water visit https://discover.pbcgov.org/drowningprevention/Pages/default.aspx.

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