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The Orangeburg County YMCA has had a difficult time hiring and retaining lifeguards over the past few summers.

The shortage has negatively impacted waterpark operations at both the Orangeburg County Aquatic Park and the Santee Water Park.

The water parks were open one day a week in Orangeburg and one day a week in Santee this past summer. The story was the same in the summer of 2021.

The YMCA is looking to change this trend. It has partnered with the Orangeburg High School for Health Professions for what it touts as a first-of-its-kind training program.

“After hearing about the shortage of lifeguards for the YMCA, we at HSHP wanted to know what we could do to rectify the shortage,” HSHP Executive Director and Principal Derwin J. Farr said.

“That’s when we decided to offer a PE 2 class for swimming. The end goal of the course is for the students to be lifeguard-certified and to gain part-time employment with the YMCA as lifeguards,” Farr said.

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Farr said the HSHP wants to “ensure everyone can enjoy the beautiful facilities (especially the water park) that the YMCA offers.”

The program is listed a physical education II elective credit and would lead to HSHP students being certified in lifeguarding, first aid, CPR, automated external defibrillator and emergency oxygen administration.

Orangeburg County YMCA Executive Director Demetrius Hardy will serve as the course instructor.

The partnership kicked off in August 2022. There are currently ten students in the course.

Hardy says in order to be open six days a week (the water parks have traditionally been closed on Wednesdays) he needs between 80 and 100 lifeguards to help provide flexibility and backup during times of vacation, family engagements, sick leave and other unforeseen circumstances.

He anticipates there will be about 19 lifeguards working the summer, but the lifeguards also have other swim instructor rotations that will take them away from working the water parks.

“We really need to triple our summer lifeguard staff at a minimum,” Hardy said.

He can’t say at this point if the parks will be open more often this summer given the staffing level.

The YMCA has had difficulty keeping lifeguards because they require two-year certification and if individuals do not get recertified, then they cannot be on staff.

A number of lifeguards that previously worked at the water parks have moved on to college internships and paid internships, leaving lifeguard duties behind.

In addition to the partnership with the HSHP, the YMCA is seeking to recruit lifeguards from South Carolina State University, Claflin University and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

“We feel like this modality can work with the colleges as well,” Hardy said.

Hardy is also reaching out to the eastern half of the county with schools such as Lake Marion High School to recruit staff for the Santee park.

Hardy said he also plans to reach out to the South Carolina Independent School Association in an attempt to partner with private schools like Holly Hill Academy and Calhoun Academy.

While lifeguards are needed in the summer, there are also needs throughout the year.

“We have a year-round operation with an indoor pool group and private lessons,” he said. “Training, certifying and hiring guards is truly a year-round effort.”

“Water competency is key for anyone interested in getting certified,” he continued. “Many teens in our area didn’t take lessons as a youth or only completed beginner’s level courses, so we’re having to start from scratch with most of them.”

The YMCA has increased lifeguards’ starting pay to $10 an hour, along with across-the-board pay increases for other positions. Hardy said pay raises are also given based on performance.

YMCA employees have a chance for internal advancement and continuing education and training.

“There is an opportunity to branch out and do other things,” Hardy said.

He said there are opportunities for lifeguards to receive swim instruction certification both for group and private sessions where the cost would be covered. He said individuals can also move up to become a lifeguard instructor.

“They can make additional money there as well,” Hardy said.

Lifeguard certification courses will begin in March and last through May. The course is three days and includes in-classroom and in-water instruction.

The YMCA is also providing free training for those interested who need help passing the lifeguard class pre-test.

Training sessions are on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information about becoming a lifeguard at the YMCA, contact the Orangeburg YMCA at 803-268-9622 or email or visit the website at

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