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City unveils loaner life jacket stations

Deryk Koivisto peels back a plastic sheet as Jeremy Browen opens the door of the Kids Don't Float station as, from left, Cris Moen of Carpenters Local 361, Madelyn Ahlborg, Bella Thompson and Brylee Ahlborg and Councilor Jenny Van Sickle watch. Jed Carlson / 1 / 3
Bella Thompson, left, and Madelyn Ahlborg model life jackets during the unveiling of the Kids Don't Float loaner program Thursday, Oct. 4. Jed Carlson / 2 / 3
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who spearheaded the effort for Kids Don't Float life jacket loaner stations, shows the red and blue life jackets inside the locker at Loon's Foot Landing. Jed Carlson / 3 / 3

Many hands and time launched Superior's newest public safety program, "Kids Don't Float."

Kids Don't Float is a program that provides loaner life jackets to kids hitting the waterways around Superior.

The project was made possible with the support of Carpenters Local 361 and its apprenticeship program, materials donated by Campbell's Lumber and donations made by the McDonald's in East End to the Superior police and fire departments. Also helping in the effort was Northwest Outlet that helped with life jackets and Duluth Sail & Power Squadron, which paid for the educational signs.

The stations, located at Loon's Foot Landing and the Arrowhead Pier, feature life jackets people can use for free when they head out on the water. Just hang them back up when you're done.

"There's no giveaway here. This is very 'by community, for community,'" said Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, who spearheaded bringing the program to Superior.

Born and raised in Alaska, she said similar life jacket stations are located at every water access point there.

"They're self-sustaining because the community donates life jackets and they recycle them that way," Van Sickle said. "The program in Alaska is actually self-sustaining and that's what I would actually like people to know is that up there, people clean out their garages, we do community drives and people leave them."

Van Sickle launched her effort back in February when she started talking about a developing a similar program in Superior. By the time she took the idea to the city's Public Safety Committee in June, plans for the project were already rolling.

"I had already hooked with them ... they would build them with the donated lumber from Campbell's," Van Sickle said of Carpenters Local 361.

Van Sickle said she approached Jeremy Browen of Carpenters Local 361 about building the stations. She said Deryk Koivisto of Local 361 and his crew jumped on board to get the job done.

Browen said the local has an apprenticeship committee that reaches out to the community to give back.

"They are super excited to get out in the community," Browen said. The local has volunteered on other projects in the city, including building homes with Habitat for Humanity, and work the University of Wisconsin-Superior Lake Superior Estuary program. He said about six apprentices constructed the stations.

"We want to give back to the community," Browen said. "If we can save one life, it's all worth it, right?"

Lumber for the project was donated by Campbell's, Van Sickle said.

Along the way, McDonald's in East End donated $500 each to the Superior police and fire departments, which was then earmarked to purchase the initial life jackets for the program. The initial life jackets purchased are red and blue, reflecting the support of the police and fire departments for the new public safety initiative.

Northwest Outlet waived its freight cost to help with the program — plus, it brought Duluth Sail & Power Squadron onboard.

Len Robinson, who works at Northwest Outlet and is a member of the power squadron, said the organization is dedicated to boater safety, so they were definitely getting involved.

"When Jenny approached me, I said we can do this through Northwest Outlet, but we're also going to do this through the power squadron, and we paid for the signs," Robinson said.

"It was another process to get the signs designed with Cricket," Van Sickle said. She said Kris Lundgren, owner of Cricket Signs, leant her talents to the design.

"And then I needed a sponsor for that. So the Duluth Sail & Power Squadron jumped on that," Van Sickle said. "It was then that I was able to order them."

After one of the two newly installed lockers was unveiled the evening of Thursday, Oct. 4, at Loon's Foot Landing, Mayor Jim Paine helped Madelyn Ahlborg and Bella Thompson become the first children in Superior to give the life jackets a try.

"It' a really long time in coming in unveiling this public safety addition that I deeply believe in," Van Sickle said. "It took every one of you to jump on board in the process to get it going. Back in February I started to talk about this, and believe it or not, sometimes it takes just that long to get something unveiled ... I'm pretty proud of the effort that so many people have invested in.

"I hope that the longer-term vision is that we get these at every single water access point in the city," Van Sickle said.