As beach season ends, four lifeguards look back on a ‘year of rebuilding’

Evanston was rocked earlier this year by an independent report which revealed ‘pervasive’ sexual misconduct by managers of the town’s six beaches. The report was sparked by a 2020 petition signed by more than 50 women that details allegations of sexual harassment on beaches.

To create a new culture of working on the beaches, the city has hired Audrey Thompson as manager of the Evanston Parks and Recreation Department, Michael Callahan as assistant manager, and Timothy Carter as director of waterfront recreation. Lake.

“There’s definitely a learning curve,” said Carter, who helped institute new hiring and human resources practices as well as new disciplinary guidelines and rules. “We are coming out of a dark, dark time for our city and a dark cloud over the lake,” he said Saturday.

Carter called 2022 “a rebuilding year” for beach staff. “And things will be better next year,” he said. “I hope to gain additional staff and I hope to regain the trust of our community, so that parents can send their children to work here at the beach office and know that they are safe.”

A total of 72 lifeguards worked at the lake this year, fewer than most previous years. Many returned to college in the past month. Labor Day is the last day of work for the Evanston lifeguards who remained.

On this last weekend of the official beach season, the Round Table interviewed four lifeguards – two veterans and two “rookies” at the city’s three open beaches. We asked them what they thought of the working environment at the beach in the past and the season that just ended. Is there a new culture? Do they feel safe? Will they come back?

Here are edited excerpts of what they had to say.

Zoe Cvetas: “I was 16 when I started working here and the managers were in their 20s or older. It was a scary thing. Credit: Richard Cahan

Zoe Cvetas has worked at Evanston Beaches for four years, two years as a lifeguard, one year as a manager and this year as a supervisor. She is a sophomore at Santa Clara University in California and will be leaving for school soon.

I think the main problem was that the supervisors had a lot of power that they weren’t using in the right way. And it was a very unhealthy work environment. They would do PT [physical training: an order to do pushups or run laps to punish lifeguards] people just because they felt like it. So they made people do things we call running or swimming just out of spite because they didn’t like that person. It wasn’t for a good reason. I think they went too far.

This year we weren’t able to do any of those things like guard physical training, which I completely understand. I think it’s a better working environment. However, it was a bit difficult to gain respect from the guards. Because they weren’t afraid of the consequences that might happen if they didn’t show up for work or if they didn’t do their job properly.

So it has been a challenge this year. Every morning we bring them in and they do a workout, i.e. a run or a swim, or work on their skills so they’re always on top. They can swim in all conditions and run in different types of weather so they are ready for any type of emergency.

At the end of the year, I think we supervisors all need to talk about what went wrong, what went right, and figure out what we can do better. Because many of us were in the supervisor position for our freshman year. Everyone was completely swept away last year.

This year has been a new chapter, a place where people are excited to come. They want to come to work at the beach because it’s the beach. You are here hanging out with your friends and getting paid. It’s a great job. But I think with everything that came out in the news in the last year, it probably scared a few people off. My mother was terrified when she saw the news. She asked, “Do you feel safe at work? Personally, I felt safe. I don’t know if it was because my older brother worked here and was friends with these guys. I never had any problems, but I certainly saw a lot.

I think this year it was good to see new people move into leadership positions, especially to have more women. In the past, it was mainly men who held this position, which gave them a lot of power and obviously did not turn out to be in a good situation. And that definitely changes the culture.

There are still issues with guys who don’t think we can do as much as they can. But I think with time this can be fixed.

Paul Martinet: “Last year, the big age difference between the supervisors and you made it awkward and uncomfortable. You can’t tell them everything. Credit: Richard Cahan

Paul Martinet is working his second year as a lifeguard. He is a senior at Evanston Township High School and is on the swim team and water polo team.

There have been many management changes. Last year our supervisors were much older. There was a big difference between us. And this year, I was just closer to my bosses. I knew a little more about beach management. So at least for me it went well.

This year I was running Greenwood Beach, then Greenwood closed. So I bounced off Clark and Lee Street beaches.

It’s really a bit tiring to come after school. But as the weather is getting a bit colder, people and children are starting to go back to school, I don’t particularly mind. It’s kind of sad, because we’ve been with our friends all summer and a lot of them go to college. But you’re moving forward in the school year, so you have a new thing coming up.

I think it is [a lot of responsibility]. But I think we are pretty well trained to handle all the situations that can come our way. During our first year, you are trained and prepared for everything. We get our certifications in CPR and how to manage the codes [emergencies]. And then before the second year, we go back through training.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like lifeguards. But now that I’m a lifeguard, I understand they’re here just to keep you safe, which is the no. 1 priority even above having fun.

I intend to return. I love working here. I think it’s a great working environment – ​​at least this year. It’s better than before. You are at the beach, which is a beautiful place. You work with your friends. It is serious work. It’s like you’re doing a good thing when you take care of others.

This weekend: I would say it’s a sad period, but also a little relieved just because I’ve been working all summer. So it’s going to be nice to take a break from work.

Mitchell Nakamoto: “For me the biggest challenge is probably the physical training. There are days when it is quite intense and difficult. Credit: Richard Cahan

Mitchell Nakamoto is a senior at ETHS. He is a musician; he plays saxophone, clarinet and piano.

I applied because I had nothing to do this summer. I wouldn’t really say it’s harder or easier than I thought.

You really have to be careful when sitting in a chair. And be sure to protect everyone. And obviously that’s something you really need to be diligent about. You cannot relax.

There are certain days when nothing happens on certain beaches, a day when there is only one person you are watching. But on days like today, when there are a lot of people in the water, it goes by pretty quickly.

I had a moment this year where there was an old man in the water who yelled, “I don’t think I can get in on my own.” And so we helped him, me and a few other guys. Other than that, I really haven’t had much in the way of rescuing people.

We had a 10 day training program. It was a mix of physical training, making sure all the rescuers are fit to save someone if we need to save someone. EMS training, making sure we know how to deal with all kinds of emergency codes and responses. I feel like the training was good. And I feel like I’m ready for anything.

I think I learned a lot of good interpersonal skills this summer. I spoke to people I had never met before, people from all sorts of age groups who came to talk to me for different reasons.

I am applying to colleges right now. And I write all my college applications. And I also have school, so it’s kind of hard for me to balance my time right now.

I will definitely tell colleges that I had this experience. I think they should care. Because it’s a job where you learn a lot. It’s a more serious job, obviously, because you’ve been protecting people’s lives. I think it shows colleges that you are focused.

My family is proud of me because I found a job this summer. And they’re happy that I can’t just find something to occupy my time. They are happy that I do this work.

Malini Jhaveri: “Most customers are nice. There are always people who just want to be difficult. Credit: Richard Cahan

Malini Jhaveri is a senior at ETHS. She has just spent her first season as a lifeguard. She is interested in a career in nursing.

I worked as a doorman last year, but I wanted to be a goalkeeper this year. I really like that. I like a lot of people who work here, and I like that we work outside. I wouldn’t say guarding the door is the most fun job. Because in the playoffs [final few weeks of the year] people got so angry because they couldn’t swim. And since the doormen are the first people they talk to, they are kind of in the spotlight. So in some ways monitoring is easier, but more responsible.

Last year, many supervisors were men. And this year, it’s a mix of both. And also, they are much younger this year. I think it’s a learning experience for everyone.

Last year was really difficult. It was chaotic. The morning it all came out [WBEZ broke the story in July 2021], I remember everyone being pulled into the room and saying the article was coming out and people were coming for the interview. And then that morning there were five different people who quit. And then two other people were fired. There was just a lot going on. I think my parents were a little worried. But they knew I really liked the job.

This time of year is difficult because once the season is over, I obviously won’t have any work. But I think it’s good, because it’s been stressful for all the high school kids. Because we have to go to school and then when we don’t have school, we have to come to work. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to always, always stay alert. I always watch people in the water.

I think the beach is prettiest in the morning because of the sunrise. There are people I see every day. Usually these are just swimming lengths. And there are beach regulars. I don’t know them, but I say “hi” to them.