Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey, well, I tizzy, how are you?
Speaker 1 00:00:03 Great. I'm really looking forward today to talking with Liz Schmidt about her experience with water smart Florida. Well, what sort of background information do we need for today's interview?
Speaker 0 00:00:17 Uh, okay, so water's smart, Florida has a tagline, which is water safety is everyone's responsibility. Water smart Florida is called water smart Florida. But throughout this interview, you're going to hear me call it water safe, Florida. I'm sorry, again, not a professional podcast, but it's called water smart Florida. I think the only really important background for folks to know is that there's water smart, Florida, which is the state level group. And then there's water smart local groups throughout the state. So you may hear us talk about water smart, uh, you know, Broward county or water smart central Florida, or something like that. So just know that there's water smart at the state level and there's water smart at the local level. And with that, let's get our conversation going with Liz. Cool. All right. So let's go ahead and get started Liz. Um, it's so wonderful to connect with you and, um, we're very grateful for your time and sharing a little bit about your experience and what's going on in Florida. Can we start off, um, just with some introductions, would you introduce yourself and give us a short, um, intro to who you are and what you do?
Speaker 2 00:01:30 Yes, absolutely. Uh, so, uh, yes, my name is Liz Schmidt and I have been involved in water safety, uh, for, uh, most of my professional career. I actually started my, one of my very first jobs was teaching swimming lessons in my local community and working with, um, within my aquatics department, I then have also been a part of, uh, the swim team in high school. So I water's always been something that I've been surrounding, uh, surrounded. Um, my, um, one of the biggest connectors that I have to water safety, drowning prevention is actually within my family. My father ran a nonprofit organization called the Trident foundation in the mid to late nineties and early two thousands that did search and recovery of drowning victims. Um, and as the president of this nonprofit, he was, uh, going to sites all across the country, uh, searching for, for drowning victims, whether it was in boats or, uh, swift water incidents in the ocean.
Speaker 2 00:02:28 Um, you know, just a whole magnitude of different journey and since, but it was always very well connecting, um, water safety in my life. And so, um, fast forward into my career, um, my biggest start in water safety came when I was at the YFCA, um, in south Palm beach county, which is in the Boca Raton, Florida area. And I was hired to help them start their community water safety initiative. And I was brought on to, uh, handed a binder and kind of said, here you go run with this program, let's get started. And so I connected with, um, other water smarts or other, uh, water safety coalitions for around the country. Um, and look to see what we could do in Florida and learning that there was not a whole lot going on in Florida with water safety, with an exception of Broward county.
Speaker 2 00:03:14 Um, they were doing a lot of work at the time and, and still do great things. And so working really closely with Broward and some of the other people throughout the state of Florida. Uh, we worked on water safety, uh, currently right now. Um, I actually am a consultant. I have my own consulting form of organization called aboveboard consulting, where I do consulting for water smart Florida, as well as for other nonprofits, uh, water related and non water related. And then I do a lot of boating safety. So my other world is in recreational boating and working with, uh, working with those boats and, and a bunch of different facets within my consulting firm. And so I'm always pushing boating initiatives, uh, water safety in terms of education for voters, as well as life jacket usage.
Speaker 1 00:03:59 That's great. Thank you, Liz, can you provide a snapshot history of water, smart Florida? When was it formed, uh, anything you know about the catalyst or motivation to get it going?
Speaker 2 00:04:13 Absolutely. Yes. So water smart Florida was formed in about 2015, and this was really an initiative that, um, my self and some colleagues at the YFCA were talking about. And how do we find some partners to make sure that we're not duplicating efforts throughout the state of Florida? And it really started with looking at the local level. Um, and, and I also have a little bit of an emergency management background. Um, so I, my first, first first career was actually in emergency management. So I always look at, in terms of when you solve an issue, you have to start at the local level and then you work your way up. And so we looking at the state of Florida have these, these water smart taskforces that we had water smart, Broward water, smart Palm beach had formed. And so looking at what are the other ways we can connect the community.
Speaker 2 00:05:04 So in 2015, uh, we launched a lot of smart Florida. The goal is to connect these, these county water smarts together, and they all would feed up into the larger water, smart Florida. It also allowed us to bring other partners to the table like the Florida swimming pool association, the American red cross. So we have some larger entities that also sit on water smart so that we can really work as a team so that we're not all in our silos. Um, and so we started, uh, our first year got off the ground with our strategic plan in 2017, we were able to receive appropriation funding from the state of Florida. So we were the first appropriation funding for drowning prevention and swim lessons that the state of Florida ever passed. And it went to the Florida Y uh, Florida Alliance of YMCAs. And, uh, so we utilize that money under the name of water, smart to re grant that out, uh, for essentially two main purposes.
Speaker 2 00:05:59 One was to local communities to do water safety lessons, to physically do lessons. And that was to pretty much any entity that had swimming instructors. So whether you were YMCAs or community center, as long as you had certified some instructors on staff, you were able to apply for a grant. Uh, the second part of that grant was also to organizations that wanted to start their own water smart coalitions in their local community. So whether that was a county-based or regional based in the state of Florida, we had kind of two, we took the money and had two different buckets. Uh, so from that, we were able to then build up our coalition to the folks that received grant funding from us. We're also members of water smart, Florida. Um, I would say moving forward and we, we did not, we have not sensed received appropriation funding.
Speaker 2 00:06:48 Uh, we had some issues in, in the state of Florida. Um, you know, the tragic Parkland shooting really affected how funding was spent in the state of Florida. A lot of money that could have been gone to initiatives, went to school security, um, very important cause absolutely. So we've not received funding and then COVID happened. So then we did not receive funding. So we are at the point now of looking at kind of being able to move forward with, um, with receiving some more funding. So right now we've really been self-funded through the organizations that come and set up the table that are able to offer up assistance. And so everyone kind of puts their hand up and says, I know somebody that can do this, they'll do it pro bono. We can put together this dollar amount, um, towards something. So that's how we've been able to kind of move forward in this, uh, in this post COVID world.
Speaker 0 00:07:37 But it is, that is, yeah, it's such a great snapshot of where you basically have gotten to where you are, but, and something that really sticks out to me is the incorporation of the local groups, because that is one of the areas where I think, um, the counties and even the regions of Florida are really strong, right. So you've got coalitions and loads of different counties. Then you've got the south Florida and central Florida. Right. So, um, can you talk to me a little bit about what happened when all of these groups from different regions got together? So w maybe, maybe, um, if you could describe what the benefit was, and if there maybe was some challenges in getting all these different groups who had been operating independently for a long time at the same table.
Speaker 2 00:08:27 Yes. Um, so the benefits are just resource. We had the opportunity to use resources from different counties, whether that's a physical thing that someone else had created that then we could duplicate and use in other areas, or if it was programs or events, uh, communications, materials, um, that sort of thing, also connections. So somebody had a connection to, um, a particular person or entity in their county that they worked with really well. We were able to leverage that and use that in other counties throughout the state. I think the biggest thing that I've always emphasized in water smart Florida, is it, it is at that local level. Um, because one of the challenges is everybody is so, um, proud of their local work. And we don't want to take away from their local work. What we're doing is we're amplifying their work throughout the rest of the state, but giving them ownership.
Speaker 2 00:09:24 So that was a big thing. Um, making sure it wasn't like water smart, Florida, isn't coming in to take over the work you've done in the years that you've built in your local community. We want to take what you've done and amplified that, so that other communities in the state can use that, uh, also Florida, um, has some very, very wealthy communities and some very, very poor communities. And so we know that there are some communities that will not have the capacity to have their own coalition. And so if we can support that Palm beach county is a good example of that. Um, Palm beach county also supports Hendrick county and to a degree Okeechobee county, some of these smaller, not as wealthy counties, we just do the work for them in Palm beach, Palm beach county has the resources to get them, those, that stuff.
Speaker 2 00:10:06 But it's under our, you know, it's part of, part of water smart Palm beach. Um, so that was something we did at local level when I ran water smart pump each county. Um, I think the, um, I mean, just another benefit was being able to have, um, the level of, uh, contacts, uh, especially in the American red cross for an example, or the YFCA, these are large nonprofit organizations and most of the local people hadn't really ever had the ability or the opportunity to connect with, um, you know, an executive level individual within those. And now we're all sitting at the same meeting talking about how are we able to, how are we gonna solve this problem? Um, and so I think it opened up those lines of communication, um, and was able to, to, to get people more passionate about doing their local work.
Speaker 1 00:10:53 So tell us a little bit about what are the main outputs or activities your, uh, water smart Florida's involved with?
Speaker 2 00:11:04 Yes. So our main activities would be, uh, awareness and through communication campaigns and, um, as well as essentially support to these local communities. So we will work to put out, uh, co-branded press releases, um, around different times of year. Uh, we will also put together letters to legislation. So because we are a entity that operates underneath essentially the Florida Alliance of YMCAs, we are able to go and essentially lobby, um, or legislate to educate. So, uh, we, we will do the actual let's put together letters and support those legislative initiatives. Um, right now we're working on a campaign with, um, connecting with tourism. So that's an area in Florida that we see that there's no group currently working on, is getting in with the tourism board, getting into the airports with water safety messaging. So we're working really heavily on that in the airports, as well as in the hotels. Um, so being able to have water safety, education, resources, and materials inside the hotels, um, and making sure that we're doing it in a way that's interesting and, um, compliments, you know, people are on vacation. So we're, we're working to make sure that it's something that people are going to look at and not just say, oh, okay, that's something we, you know, we have to worry about that. So those would be the main things we're working on now.
Speaker 0 00:12:26 That's great. Can I ask, um, a little bit about, cause you mentioned tourism and the YMCA and American red cross had been heavily involved. Who are the players, what sort of folks are involved in this coalition?
Speaker 2 00:12:40 Yeah, so we have, um, we, we do, we work pretty diligently to make sure that we have a representative from each S uh, county or regional water smart as a part of that. Um, so that individual is anybody from a Parson RAC representative to a wide, um, aquatics director or executive director to, um, person rec there. They kind of represent the red cross at the local level because most of our parks and rec departments do red custom lessons. Um, and then we also have representations from the Florida department of health, um, both at the local level, within some of ours, as well as the statewide level. So, uh, safe kids is another big entity that we have sitting at the table, both at the local level and then state level. And, um, we also have hospitals, so we have a few hospitals that have, we have one over in Naples that is very involved. And, um, we also have Broward health is also very involved, um, being able to push out information and things like that. So, uh, the cool thing is, is we have these local ones and then we have the state representatives as well that they'll sit and do, do the work together. People are able to kind of feed information up and down.
Speaker 0 00:13:52 Yeah. That's super helpful. Um, Florida much like California has a very well-developed mature and robust ocean safety infrastructure. Do you have, uh, the surf lifeguards and, and kind of the ocean safety people in involved?
Speaker 2 00:14:10 Yes, we do. To a certain degree, um, in Florida, we've had a little bit of some changes in terms of how that's, it's run, um, on their side, some leadership changes. So we are actually getting back into having them be more involved. But, um, I would say about two years ago they were heavily involved in, in water smart. So yes, we're, we're getting back to that now. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:14:34 And on that same note, uh, for Florida water smart Florida, uh, do you focus on ocean as well as pools and lakes and rivers bathtubs, which what's your scope in terms of yeah,
Speaker 2 00:14:49 Yes. Yeah. So I would say our, our heavy scope is, is going to be that cool. Um, and particularly we actually focus on that backyard pool, um, because of the amount of backyard pools we have in Florida. Um, my, my big initiative that I bring to the table for me is I I'm always bringing the boating safety. Um, and that's an area that I think we as a state to do a way better job of working towards, um, promoting safety measures in that area. Um, but we, we do open a lottery as well. We know that the beaches are, are an issue, um, and especially at certain pockets of the state, um, our beaches are, have higher drownings than in other areas. So, um, we, we don't focus as much on rivers or inland bodies of water as I think we could be. Um, I think that is definitely an area for us that we w not, it's not overlooked, but it just hasn't been an area that we've focused on, but we'll, we'll, we'll do it all.
Speaker 0 00:15:48 Yeah, sure. Yeah. Liz, would you share with us, um, since the incorporation and kind of 2015 16, what do you see as some of the biggest successes that, uh, uh, water say Florida has had?
Speaker 2 00:16:02 Yeah, I think, um, Ms. Bringing that recognition to water safety and the need, uh, for water safety awareness in local communities, that's been the biggest. I also think we have been able to find some of these smaller communities that aren't a Palm beach county or Broward county, um, who are doing some really great work and being able to amplify some of the stuff that they're doing. Um, we have a county on the east coast of Florida that has a program where they have police officers trained to be water safety instructors through the red cross. And then those police officers do a program and they volunteer and they teach kids how to swim. We know that that's not necessarily a model. We can't just say everyone to Florida to do that. That's going to work. We know that that's not going to work, but this is a, a, you know, not as largely populated county, it's smaller community, smaller town. It works in that town. And there's other areas that, that could work as well. So I think that's the other important thing to look at when we look at successes, is it, it looks a little bit differently and I, I'm always one champion that a blanket, um, answer isn't going to work, especially in water safety. Um, and so we can have some options and go to communities and say, here's some ideas what might work in a community of your size, or depending on the funding that you have available and those sorts of things.
Speaker 0 00:17:23 Yeah. Especially in water blanket answers, not going to work in water safety and especially in really complex, big diverse states.
Speaker 2 00:17:30 Yes, yes, yes. Yes. One of the big initiatives that was really, really being pushed back in 20 14, 20 15 was a water safety, swim lessons in schools. And it's just one of those things where we talk about it and we bring it up. It's all, you know, it's one of those forefront, but we've had heart to heart conversations amongst the water smart Florida team and amongst the leadership team within water smart Florida, that it's like, this is probably not going to happen in Florida. We have just massive large school districts and just the coordination of that and the logistics of that and everything. And, and you hear some really awesome stories. I know there's a school district in Idaho, um, that gets all of their kid's swimming lessons and stuff like that. They're probably, you know, a 10th of the size of Palm beach county school district or Broward county. Right. And so it's awesome and it works for them, but we have to look at different initiatives and different ways that we can reach the community. Um, but it also could work in Henry county, Henry county is a smaller community, smaller, you know, so, yes, absolutely.
Speaker 1 00:18:33 And how about challenges or barriers?
Speaker 2 00:18:37 Um, I think one, um, challenge or barrier is making sure that we check stuff off a list. Um, I think working out with a group of just this, the size and the scope and the state of Florida, which is just so different, um, making sure that we're moving forward, getting stuff done. If we hit roadblocks, um, we're moving past them. Um, COVID has really changed for everybody how we do our work and how we're able to accomplish stuff. I would say two years ago, we were very heavily into those family events, family festivals and fairs and pool safety days and things like that. Um, I will slowly get back to those, but, um, we've, we've had to kind of re tailor the way that we're getting our messaging out, um, because we're not able to ship materials to a pool who's having a water safety day or a family day at their facility.
Speaker 2 00:19:28 So, um, that's been a challenge just with everybody we've all had. That is how are we, how do we re kind of evaluate the way we get our messaging out? Um, one of the other, uh, events that we have done that we've, we've redesigned is our symposium. So we do a water smart symposium where we bring a keynote speaker. That's not, that's usually we try to make it Florida related, but we've had a couple that haven't been, um, but we've had Florida people who are doing things really well in the state of Florida being able to talk to, and we're focusing on a grander or group. Um, so the challenge of that is we used to have an in-person and that we've switched that virtual. Um, so some of that networking has, has kind of died off, um, and those contacts and things like that. So hopefully we're, we're being able to get some funding back in and work towards doing that in the future.
Speaker 0 00:20:16 So let me ask a followup question there, because I think, you know, COVID aside, it is difficult to keep people engaged in this sort of work over the long run. Um, and you're in this, you're in this interesting spot where you've been around for 5, 6, 7 years. So the initial novelty of the statewide group is probably waned a little bit. What recommendations would you have for groups who, um, are maybe in a similar space or I guess the question is how, how do we keep people engaged in this over the long run?
Speaker 2 00:20:50 Absolutely. Um, I would say two, two main two tips I would have is have a leadership committee. Um, that's going to be something that maybe in the beginning is hard to vet cause everyone wants everyone. Like you said, everyone's excited. So everyone wants to be on a leadership call. Um, but we have the week before the water smart all call, we have a leadership call and there's about five of us, five to six of us that are a part of that call. Um, and so we, you know, we, we basically started it as a way to set an agenda. Um, and, and, but that has really turned into the conversation I just explained I had today about, okay, we need to start looking at other ways. Um, because you know, you can kind of see that enthusiasm waning. Um, so that leadership committee has really allowed us to keep things moving forward.
Speaker 2 00:21:35 And as we'd had entities kind of jump on and drop off, we're able to kind of keep moving forward, but then kind of pulling those entities back in like the ocean rescue. Um, the other one I would say is have a strategic plan and look at it frequently. We have been successful. I feel one of the reasons is because we traded a strategic plan and we continue to go back to that plan, um, and say, what are we doing? What are we completing? Okay, that's not gonna work. Let's re revise this. Um, and doing that in the beginning almost at a yearly basis. I think for the first three to three years, we updated our strategic plan every single year. Um, then we went to a two year plan, but, uh, we're probably going to have to go back to a year plan at least for the next couple of years as we kind of re redevelop, um, in this new era. So, um, but that's when she's took plan, I think is huge. Um, just giving yourself a roadmap to how are we going to move forward and making sure that stuff doesn't get left on the table.
Speaker 0 00:22:34 Super helpful. Great. Yeah. Great. I was just going to say super helpful and great information, right. Is a good leadership structure and a plan. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:22:44 Um, when you created the strategic planner, when water smart, Florida created the strategic plan, how did you involve all the various members?
Speaker 2 00:22:53 Yeah, so what we, we first invited everybody to share their plans with us. Um, and so that was, that was a big help in terms of being able to look at what were other communities, um, priorities and, and what were other people working on and accomplishing. And then we were, we connected with a few of the larger water smarts, um, to, to say, okay, what worked, what hasn't worked, what should we even, what should we not bother with in your opinion? And so we were able to collect feedback in that way. Um, and then the larger group was water smart is, um, we actually had kind of a brainstorming session of what, you know, what are people's top five and how it could, you know, and it's interesting. You take a look at that and people have got their top five and they might look slightly different than this person's top five, but they're kind of the same. So then we were able to kind of make sure that we had initiatives that resonated with the local communities that were sitting on water smart, as well as the other industries. That's, that's it in honest with as well. So we're making it relevant to everybody and something that everybody feels that it's important work for them to do because they have a piece of it, um, because it aligns with what their local initiatives are.
Speaker 1 00:24:05 I really liked the way you continue to bring things up from the local level, from your members. And while you talk about having a leadership committee, you're still very driven and engaged with your members.
Speaker 2 00:24:17 Yes, yes. Yep. That's I think that's, that is just, that's the key that's made us successful. And I also think that's the key that's made us relevant. Local communities want to work with us and want to promote water smart Florida on the resources that we've helped provide because we're going to amplify them and the work that they're doing, and yet whether that's a community local, a local family foundation, an agency organization, that sort of thing. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:24:42 Um, what sort of relationship do you have, does water say Florida have with government either at the local or the state level?
Speaker 2 00:24:51 Yeah, so we have a very good relationship with the, with the government in lots of different levels and in lots of different parts. Um, here in south Florida, we have a really good relationship with our local governments, whether it's in Palm beach state or, or, um, Broward, um, we have worked to remain good relationships with our elected officials, um, and whether it's with the elected officials or their staff, and really keeping those lines of communication open, um, and you know, having a seat at the table in some of these water safety conversations with these elected officials at the local level and not being afraid of that, I think that that's something, um, that a lot of people, all of a sudden, they don't want to get into the politics, so they wanna get into politics. So they want to step away and say, that is actually really important, um, in order to get certain things passed.
Speaker 2 00:25:41 Um, and certain things accomplished is to really have those conversations with your local officials at the statewide level. We have the same thing as well. Um, we work with Florida department of health on the statewide level water smart Florida is part of the Florida health improvement plan. Um, and so we sit at that at that table. Um, and we, we were put on that through creating those connections with the Florida department of health, as well as with Florida state kids. Um, and so we sit on, you know, on that task force with the drowning prevention, um, it's essentially a committee within water smart Florida, um, is the Florida, Florida community health improvement plan through the water safety. So, um, I would say we have a really great relationship. The other aspect that we've really tried to do is, is introduced legislation and a water smart Florida's name on the legislation, um, not necessarily in the title, um, but in the letters to senators or congressmen about the, um, whether it's appropriation bill or whether it's some type of legislation that we're putting in or supporting too.
Speaker 2 00:26:42 So if somebody else is putting in legislation that has a water safety, um, positive effect on water safety, building safety, Jarden prevention, we will go ahead and circulate a letter that's signed water smart, but also includes all of the local entities or organizations that can be and will be a part of that letter. So really staying relevant in that, um, I think has been really important. And then we also have, we work with the Florida swimming pool association, which has a big presence within our, our legislator in the state of Florida. And so working closely with them, uh, has really been helpful in getting us into some meetings and getting us connected. And so now I would say the biggest thing is not being afraid of that. Um, I see that as a pretty common fear as people want to stay away, get in, jump into that. You're a statewide I'm Steve thought it worked with the state officials.
Speaker 1 00:27:32 That's great advice. Speaking of advice, what would you say to a newly forming water safety coalition?
Speaker 2 00:27:42 Yeah, so I would say my, my advice, um, would be to really work, to find who those people are in the state who are doing great work and be open and be creative in who sits at the table. Um, I, I take a look at some of the local foundations. Some of the people that we have, we have some people who work in Miami Dade who are water safety instructors, who are, they have their own businesses, but they do some amazing work in water safety. And they're part of water smart Florida, because they can help us amplify messages. Um, so take a look at, don't just pigeonhole yourself into parks and rec where I'm CA red cross, you know, really take a look at who are some people that are passionate about water safety are doing the work already in their community and can help support that at the statewide level.
Speaker 2 00:28:33 And, and it's, and it's an out of the box, um, thinking, um, and, and Florida's a big state, California is a big state, um, sometimes going to them help. So if there's people in other parts of the state who can get in the car and drive to that local community to go meet with those people, one-on-one, I know we built a lot of really great rapport, um, and were able to build trust in a lot of these communities by me just getting in a car and driving over to Tampa and meeting with the folks over there or Naples or wherever, um, and, uh, and doing that. And, you know, that takes a lot of legwork, but, and commitment, but that really helped us set the groundwork. I mean, I haven't done that in a couple of years now, so because we, we built that coalition. Um, so I think really doing, putting that lead work in and making sure you have the right people at the table, um, and taking a look at the state and making sure that water smart reflects your water safety activities in your state. And I would say we're probably, we're, we're pretty good at that. Um, I even say we could do better, um, at, at Florida, uh, our water smart, representing the water activities that happen in our state. Um, but I think that that would be really important to amplifying a message.
Speaker 0 00:29:45 Can you just clarify what you mean by that? Um, make sure that the coalition of flex the active, the water activity happening in the state, what does that mean?
Speaker 2 00:29:54 Yes. So I take a look at Florida, um, and I take a look at what our activities people are doing and you're around the water. So we have scuba diving activities and circling activities. So having representatives from those areas of part, uh, fishing, we have lots of fishermen and fishing and fishing activities. Uh, the biggest one we're working with right now is the charter boat industry. Um, because day charters, hourly boat, charters, boat rentals with captains, um, that's a really big, has really exploded during COVID. And so having those folks be aware of the work we're doing and how they can help us, um, and how we can help them, you know, vice versa. Uh, so I think that's kind of an example. So what are, you know, what are some of those activities in the state, um, that, you know, obvious or not so obvious, but having representatives at the table is important,
Speaker 0 00:30:48 Super helpful. Liz, this has been a really informative discussion. Thank you so much. It's funny. I mean, the last question was about advice that you would give to a new coalition, but I think, I think like every answer that you had today was full of great advice. So again, I thank you so much for your work in Florida, um, and for your, for your willingness to come, uh, with us today and share some of those lessons.
Speaker 2 00:31:15 All right, guys. Well, thank you so much for inviting me. This is great. I love sharing this work that we're doing. So, um, yeah. Any way that I can help other other areas, you know, do this work and maybe do a better, that would be awesome. So thanks. Thanks for thinking to me and have me be a part of it. You're awesome.
Speaker 0 00:31:34 And I'll see
Speaker 2 00:31:35 You tomorrow. See you tomorrow. Bye.