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FOR RELEASE: May 24, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

"Brittany Project" Offers Life Jackets at State Parks

Picnic basket – check.
Cooler – check.
Swimsuits – check.
Life jackets – oops!

For the second summer, visitors to state lakes who forget to bring life jackets for their children can borrow them free of charge, thanks to a collaborative program involving state agencies and water safety advocates.

In an effort to prevent drownings, the second-leading cause of fatal accidents to Oklahoma children, the Oklahoma SAFE KIDS Coalition is continuing the Brittany Project, its life jacket loaner program, at 10 state lake parks.

In 1999, SAFE KIDS, a program of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, piloted the program at Lake Thunderbird and its success led the coalition to expand the program across the state last year.

Named for 4-year-old Brittany Mobley, who drowned Memorial Day weekend five years ago and wasn't wearing a life jacket, the program will offer free use of children's life jackets at the following lakes in addition to Thunderbird's Little Sandy beach: Lake Murray, Lake Texoma, Arrowhead and Fountainhead parks at Lake Eufaula, Lake Tenkiller, Sequoyah Park at Lake Fort Gibson, Green Leaf Park at Green Leaf Lake, Quartz Mountain State Park at Lake Altus, and Keystone State Park at Lake Keystone.

In 1998, 15 Oklahoma children age 12 and under drowned -- mostly in lakes. “A typical drowning scenario is when a family goes to the lake without life jackets for the children, and the adults have a brief lapse in supervision. That very brief lapse can result in a child's death or irreversible brain damage,” said Martha Collar, coalition coordinator. She added that not a single child drowned last summer at lakes that participated in the Brittany Project.

In addition to SAFE KIDS, sponsors include Family & Friends of Dona and Greg Williams and the Oklahoma Department of Tourism. Dona is the mother of Brittany, and started raising funds and giving out life jackets at Lake Thunderbird on the one-year anniversary of her daughter's death.

Now, instead of giving out life jackets for families to keep, the Brittany Project offers loaner jackets in several sizes for children to use and return when they are finished swimming. The jackets hang on wooden kiosks, built by state park employees and with materials funded by SAFE KIDS. “The reason this program works so well is because most of the jackets are returned. Most people realize that if the jackets aren't returned, a child who comes after them may not be protected,” said Collar.

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