Goldfish Swim School owner teaches swimming, builds relationships in Belize

Since Alex Tyler first visited Gales Point, Belize, in 2014 on a church mission trip, his impact on the small fishing village has expanded to the tune of $47,000 raised, nine trips organized and dozens of volunteers involved from around the United States.

Tyler, a franchise owner of Goldfish Swim School locations in Glen Ellyn and St. Charles, visited Belize again this January with a team of 15 others. The group built a house for a family of four, taught swimming lessons and stepped in to lead a third grade class when the teacher was out sick.

The Goldfish Swim School “CandyGram” campaign raised $10,000 for tuition, school supplies and transportation for high school students in Belize. Courtesy of Alex Tyler

“I think there’s a lot of value in continuing to go back,” Tyler said. “To see what you’ve done, and to build on what you’ve done.”

Tyler also led a “CandyGram” campaign for the fourth time this year, which involved more than 50 Goldfish locations and raised more than $10,000. For $1, students and instructors could send a note and a piece of candy to another student or instructor of their choosing.

Funds raised will pay for tuition, school supplies and transportation for children in Gales Point to attend high school. Tyler said the costs associated with secondary education often are a barrier for families.

According to Tyler, around 40 Belizean children have benefited from the campaign over the past four years, with several expected to graduate this year and go on to jobs in various trades.

“I really want these kids to find hope in whatever their dreams are and whatever they want to become someday,” Tyler said.

Tyler and the rest of the team also support a different kind of education: learning to swim. Gales Point is a village surrounded by water, where fishing is a main source of food and where hurricanes often displace large parts of the community. But when Tyler first visited, he found that most of the community could not swim.

“They just didn’t have the chance and the opportunity to enjoy all of the experiences their environment has to offer,” said Bryan Ocava, general manager at the Glen Ellyn Goldfish location who has been on five Belize trips, including the one this year.

Tyler said his goal is to get kids comfortable in the water so that it becomes a source of fun rather than fear.

“We’ve definitely changed that mentality in the village,” Tyler said. “I’m hoping that for generations to come, that’ll continue.”

Goldfish swim volunteers and the kids of Gales Point during a trip in 2023. Franchise owner Alex Tyler said he wants kids to be comfortable and have fun in the water. Courtesy of Bryan Ocava

Aside from the tangible work that the Goldfish team does each year, Tyler and Ocava said the trips build connection and offer a new perspective.

“The ability to see and experience other cultures and to build bonds and lasting relationships with other people that you normally wouldn’t interact with, it adds a shade of color to how you go about your day-to-day operations,” Ocava said. “It really gives you a sense of companionship and compassion.”

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