Riverview’s Kari Bahour, a drowning prevention specialist and founder of Water Smart Tots, took home the Be More Involved Mason Dixon Award for Volunteerism at the 13th annual WEDU Be More Awards.

Created by WEDU PBS to help raise awareness for local nonprofits and their service to West Central Florida, this year’s event was held on Thursday, February 22, at the Bryan Glazer JCC in Tampa.

The Mason Dixon Award for Volunteerism, named for local radio personality and philanthropist Mason Dixon, is bestowed upon the individual, family or group that has lent a unique voice to bring awareness, credence, support, or action to an issue or cause.

In explaining to the audience why he and his wife, Pat, chose Bahour as this year’s winner among the six finalists, an emotional Dixon shared—for the first time publicly—that their daughter nearly drowned several years ago in the pool at their home.

Bahour became a survival swimming instructor after her 16-month-old son experienced a near drowning incident at a friend’s pool more than 18 years ago. In 2014, she started Water Smart Tots, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to eliminating pediatric drowning in Hillsborough County by promoting awareness through water safety education and by providing access to aquatic self-rescue swimming skills to children ages 12 months to six years who are financially underprivileged or have special needs.

“Water Smart Tots was founded on the belief that every child deserves the opportunity to be equipped with required survival swimming skills,” Bahour said upon accepting her award. “Since our inception we’ve raised over $40,000 to fund approximately 3,000 individualized one-on-one swim lessons.

“Drowning is a preventable tragedy. It is our vision to eliminate pediatric drowning and with the support of dedicated community members, together we are making that vision a reality.”

For more information about Water Smart Tots, visit www.WaterSmartTots.org.

Melonie Hall of Family Promise of Hillsborough County was a finalist for the Mason Dixon Award. Family Promise, which is located in Brandon, also was a finalist for the Be More Empowered Small Nonprofit Award, which honors an organization with a budget of less than $500,000 that is making a major positive impact on our community. Visit familypromisefl.org. For a list of winners, visit https://www.wedu.org/bemore.

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