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Blair funds swim lessons

A Suffolk businessman will foot the bill for nearly three dozen children to learn to swim this summer.

William Blair, owner of Blair Brothers Inc., plans to cover the cost of swimming lessons for up to 34 children at the Cypress Park pool on Arizona Avenue. This is the second year Blair has offered the opportunity to children in need; last summer, he donated $500 for 17 kids to take lessons.

Blair said he decided to make this investment after the March 25, 2015, death of 6-year-old Mason Sheets, a Creekside Elementary School student who drowned in a small retention pond across the street from his North Suffolk home.

“That’s a terrible thing for his family,” Blair said. “The worst thing in the world is seeing a child lose a sibling.

“I want this to be for children who might not have other opportunities to take swimming lessons, not for someone with a pool in their backyard,” he said.

Blair said he would like to see other businesses kick in funding, making lessons available to more children.

Blair, who learned to swim in the Nansemond River, said he believes children should begin learning to swim when they’re young.

It’s about more than safety, he added.

“You wouldn’t believe what jumping off a diving board will do for a kid’s self-esteem,” Blair said. “It picks it up a couple of notches.”

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said Blair’s generosity is making a difference in the community.

“We would love to see more companies get involved,” Bennett said. “I think there are a lot of families that don’t have the funds to send their kids to the YMCA for swimming lessons.”