theGrio’s 100: Wanda Butts, turning tragedy into life-saving hope

Wanda Butts

Honoree Wanda Butts of The Josh Project speaks onstage during the CNN Heroes: An All Star Tribute at The Shrine Auditorium on December 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Who is Wanda Butts?

Wanda Butts faced every mother’s nightmare, when in 2006, she learned that her 16-year-old son had died. Josh drowned while rafting in Michigan with friends. And Butts was devastated by the realization that her own upbringing — avoiding water — had led her to raise her children without the knowledge of water safety, or how to swim.

According to USA Swimming, Butts was not alone. While drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death among American children, seven in ten African-American children do not know how to swim, along with six in ten Hispanic children, and compared to 40 percent of white children. And the organization states that children who grow up in non-swimming households are at an eight times greater risk of drowning. Meanwhile, participating in swimming lessons could reduce the likelihood of a child drowning by 88 percent.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

In response to the unspeakable tragedy she faced, Butts founded The Josh Project, partnering with USA Swimming to create a nonprofit that to date, has has taught more than 1,000 children in Ohio how to swim. Butts was named a CNN Heroes finalist in 2012 for her efforts.

“I saw nothing but disaster and tragedy from Josh’s drowning,” Butts said of the award. “Now I can see better what the plan was for my son’s life and death, and mine. His death was so others could have a fuller life and possibly a longer life because of their knowing how to swim…”

What’s next for Wanda Butts?

Butts has set a goal of expanding the Josh Project into its own aquatic complex with an Olympic-sized pool. The organization currently utilizes the pool at Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales High School on Saturdays.

Find out more about Wanda Butts’ The Josh Project here.