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A Swim-a-thon Without A Pool

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A Swim-a-thon Without A Pool

When one of IJM’s largest community-led fundraisers is canceled due to COVID-19, it’s best to try a different stroke.

Constituent Experience Representative Jared Umberger shines a spotlight on the stories of some of our extraordinary supporters.

Every year, a Minnesota community comes together to swim laps and raise money for IJM through a local youth swim-a-thon known as Freedom Swim. Since its inception in 2016, this event has raised over $200k for IJM. This year, the Freedom Swim team was hoping to raise more money than ever before.

Ellen Blust organizes the Freedom Swim with other parents, and they had spent five months contacting corporate sponsors, organizing participants, developing promo videos and flyers and acting as a support for new swimmers. It’s an understatement to say a lot of hard work went into planning this event.

The 152 kids who signed up to swim laps to end slavery were supposed to swim on March 14, 2020. Then COVID-19 swept through the US and brought everyday life to a stand-still.

Ellen and other parent leaders felt like the “wind got knocked out of them” when they realized the serious nature of COVID-19. So they decided to cancel the event and take back some control. Good thing, because the next day the pool was closed per community safety guidelines.

Ellen’s kids (the masterminds behind Freedom Swim) were willing to wait as long as it took for them to return to the pool and swim on behalf of IJM. However, Ellen started to hear the same thing again and again from the other families involved: “These kids want to do something.”

Soon, Ellen was receiving updates on how participants were adapting the swim-a-thon into new challenges to raise money. From individual swim teams running laps around a track to families swimming in their own pools to teams continuing their fundraisers, this group of kids stepped out of their comfort zones and remained dedicated to a cause bigger than themselves.

“And I was really blessed to see how everybody else was like, ‘No, let's do this in a different way.’ And they rallied and made it happen in their own way.”

Freedom Swim usually is a big event with music, food, competition and time with friends and family — an event everyone in the community looks forward to every year. And even though it looked different this year, Ellen’s story demonstrates how influential one event can be in shaping people’s desires to help and love others.

Even though the event was “canceled,” the Freedom Swim community still raised over $70,000 for IJM’s work ending global slavery.

Ellen puts it best when it comes to the impact of events like Freedom Swim; it becomes about having “a place for…kids to think about people outside of themselves and people’s…vulnerabilities around the world.”

Ellen is engaged in this work because of her children’s passion for helping others. Over the years, Freedom Swim has grown exponentially and brought in over a quarter of a million dollars. And no amount of adversity is going to stop them from bringing rescue to those in need.

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