The North Platte Noon Rotary club welcomed Josh the Otter to their meeting Wednesday to announce that they were awarded the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation Rotary Water Safety Advocacy Award for the second year in a row. Volunteers from the club dress up in the costume and read to kindergarteners each year to raise awareness of water safety.
As the chords of “Billie Jean” came over the speakers, a fuzzy otter entered the Noon Rotary meeting on Wednesday November .
It’s a little different song than is typically played for Josh the Otter, a character used to teach water safety to kindergarteners and parents. The otter made an appearance to celebrate an award received by the Noon Rotary club — the 2015 Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation Rotary Water Safety Advocacy Award.
From nearly 300 participating clubs, the North Platte club was chosen among 17 others for the award. The Noon Rotary club was also recognized in 2014 with the award.
“They’re in a league with a lot larger communities,” said Trudy Merritt, aquatics director at the North Platte Recreation Center.
Merritt started the Josh the Otter Little Otters water training program at the rec center three years ago and brought it to the attention of the Noon Rotary club. Josh the Otter is already affiliated with Rotary International because founders Blake and Kathy Collingsworth are both Rotarians.
The program was started after the Collingsworths’ son slipped out of sight and drowned in a backyard pool at their Lincoln home.
Each year, volunteers from the Noon Rotary club visit kindergarten classes across the community. One reads a Josh the Otter book and the other greets children in the otter costume. The Noon Rotarians recently purchased their own costume for the program.
“There was an overwhelming interest in doing this,” said Misty Robertson, who coordinates the program and volunteers for Noon Rotary. “The club just stepped up.”
Merritt said even though Nebraska is a landlocked state — many of the other clubs recognized were coastal — there are plenty of rivers, lakes, ponds, pools and even bathtubs where drowning tragedies can be prevented.