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Water Safety Champion of The Month: Shirley DeRego


Losing a child is a pain beyond words, a grief that reshapes every aspect of life. For March 2024 Water Safety Champion of The Month: Shirley DeRego, this unimaginable loss became a catalyst for change. This lead her to found the Alex and Duke DeRego Foundation, named in memory of her sons. Shirley’s journey has been deeply personal, yet in founding and working with the foundation, she found a unique path toward healing.

We are proud to announce our March 2024 Water Safety Champion of The Month, Shirley DeRego.

The Foundation as a Healing Process

In the tight-knit community of Waimea, the De Rego family’s tragedy was felt by all. The outpouring of “aloha” — from meals to searches for her son Alex, who was lost in a drowning accident — became a monument of support and healing. The invitation from her son’s school to speak and the planting of a Koa tree in his honor were profound moments of embrace, aiding her healing journey.

The foundation’s programs, particularly the ocean awareness/education series, serve as a living memorial to her children. Watching kids engage with the program, Shirley sees reflections of her own children. Helping foster a connection that lightens the load of her loss despite the heaviness of grief.


Key Programs and Initiatives

The foundation’s ocean awareness program is a testament to Shirley’s commitment to water safety. This two-part series begins with a classroom session, introducing children to the real stories behind the program, followed by hands-on learning at the beach. Activities range from swimming lessons with certified instructors to learning about rip currents and basic CPR. All of these activities are aimed at building confidence and respect for the water.

Word of the program’s impact has spread, leading to a fully booked 2024 and the potential for collaboration with the Hawaii Lifeguard Association. The mantra “when in doubt, don’t go out” and the emphasis on calling 911 highlight the program’s focus on practical, life-saving advice.


Amplifying Impact Through Collaboration

Partnerships and community engagements have significantly amplified the foundation’s impact. From water safety seminars with local canoe clubs to distributing water safety materials to new mothers in hospitals across Hawaii Island, these efforts are creating a culture of water safety. The involvement in Water Safety Month and the support from local businesses further extend the foundation’s reach.

Looking ahead, Shirley envisions a culture where water safety education is a way of life. Plans for a swim center in her hometown and integrating water safety into the school curriculum aim to ensure that every child develops the skills necessary to stay safe in and around water.


A Message to Parents and Caregivers

Shirley’s message to parents and caregivers is clear: Drowning is preventable through education and participation in water competency lessons. The loss of a child has a ripple effect, devastating families and communities alike. Being present and vigilant can safeguard the legacy of a child’s life.

Thank You For Making A Difference In Water Safety!

In reflecting on her journey, Shirley acknowledges the strength drawn from her community and faith. Her experience underlines the importance of knowledge, presence, and community involvement in creating safer environments for all children.

Through the Alex and Duke De Rego Foundation, Shirley De Rego is not just preserving the memory of her sons; she’s transforming tragedy into a legacy of hope and safety for others.

Thank you for being a Water Safety Champion!

If you are making a difference in water safety and drowning prevention or know someone who is, we want to hear your story. 

Please take a moment to share the story on our website for a chance to be nationally recognized as a Water Safety Champion.