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Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Bruckner Chase – Social Innovator

by Reese on December 26, 2012

What Makes Bruckner Chase’s program in American Samoa successful?

Given his incredible success in long distance swimming Bruckner Chase could reasonably be expected to kick back and rest on his laurels. But Bruckner has leveraged his success as an open water endurance swimmer into so much more.

Bruckner has become an inspirational social innovator. Using his long distance swimming skills, he has partnered with the National Marine Sanctuaries to raise awareness about these rich and prolific environments. He was named member of the technical advisory team to Special Olympics International for the open water swim and continues as a special advisor assisting with the global program and coaching development for our talented Special Olympians.

And Bruckner and his wife Michelle Evans-Chase are training the next generation of ocean heroes in American Samoa with their innovative and effective program, Toa o le Tai™. I’ll let Bruckner describe the program in his own words, “The Toa o le Tai™ (Ocean Heroes) program uses highly trained peer educators and mentors to provide free instruction to other youth in their communities in how to safely be in and around the ocean.

These peer educators are a select group of older adolescents (age 17-20) who are trained in ocean safety, open water swimming and ocean conservation. Youth who complete the Toa o le Tai™ training successfully are awarded the Bruckner Chase Toa o le Tai™ award and are then charged with providing classes and structured open water experiences for other youth, organized through village and/or school connections.”

“Each component of the Toa o le Tai™ program is an evidence-based practice, such that each component has been found through empirical research to increase factors that are protective against poor social and/or health outcomes in youth. First, the benefits of being a peer educator or mentor has been found to include a greater understanding of the subject matter, in this case ocean safety and conservation, increased self-awareness and self-esteem, increased tolerance for others, increased perspective taking, and increased confidence and self-discovery.

Additionally, peer education and mentorship experience provides marketable skills (public speaking, leadership, organizing, teaching) valued in both the public, non-profit, for-profit and academic spheres.” “Second, given the sensation seeking behavior that is a normal part of adolescent development, providing structured activities for youth in early and middle adolescence that gives them an opportunity to safely try new, exciting activities is one way to protect youth from poor social and/or health outcomes such as unwanted pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and delinquent behaviors. Additionally, research has indicated that  structured leisure activities (e.g. open water swimming) are associated with better educational outcomes.”

“Finally, increasing open water swimming and safety skills increases the physical safety of program participants as well as providing the basic skills upon which further opportunities can be built. For instance, participants who become proficient open water swimmers will have increased opportunities to become paid lifeguards, to participate in international open water competition and to earn college scholarships.”

What makes Toa o le Tai™ a socially innovative program?

1. In-depth understanding of the culture and the at-risk population.

2. Network developed among key influencers in the community with a protocol for creating additional peer influencers among the target group.

3. Harness both academic research on adolescent development and water safety and open water swimming skills

4. Sustainable solution – the skills learned have a great chance of being passed on from parent to child and across peer groups.

Toa o le Tai™ was developed specifically for American Samoa, but I believe that the framework that Bruckner, Michelle and their team in American Samoa developed should be incorporated into any number of similar programs.

Different cultures will require different relationships, but any program that includes the four items listed above has the chance of creating a program that saves lives and changes behavior permanently and positively.

American Samoa is lucky to have Bruckner Chase. The whole world will be luckier if we follow his example.

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