ALEX KUSHEL plantation@tribune.com

It was a day that stuck with him long before he began his storied baseball career. Andre Dawson, who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July, had a life-changing experience after being pushed into the water and nearly drowning at age 14.

“I never really feared the water; I just never took the liberty of going out and learning how to swim,” Dawson said. “One thing about the incident was, I never really panicked and I felt I could get out of the water. It was just a matter of doing what I needed to do to get to the side and reach for the rail.”

Four years ago, Dawson learned for the first time how to swim. He enrolled in Plantation’s Baby Otter Swim School at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El. The swim school was founded by Mindy York and Marlene Bloom, who teamed up to coach Dawson.

“They put me in the pool and it was a pretty rapid process,” Dawson said. “It took me a little over a week, and I became very comfortable getting into the water. I never learned to swim until my later years and I am thankful that I did take the opportunity to do that.”

Dawson has made a number of appearances at the Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El day camp, including June 21, when he spearheaded a baseball clinic and spent time in the pool with children.

Dawson is the national spokesperson for the Baby Otter Scholarship and Education Fund, which promotes children’s water safety. The school specializes in water survival training and is dedicated to preventing drowning accidents.

The Baby Otter Scholarship and Education Fund is a nonprofit organization that raises money to develop swim centers and offers scholarships to underprivileged and special-needs adults and children that enable them to train and attend swimming classes.

In August, Dawson will travel across the nation to continue to promote the Baby Otter Swim School. He will have a swimming safety clinic to focus attention on the importance of drowning prevention.

“I am trying to reach out to different cities across the United States to build the program,” Dawson said. “It’s a slow process, but I am very optimistic that this program is a necessity. Many people read about the tragedies, and that is something that can be prevented if we can reach the youth and get them involved.”

Dawson, a Miami native who currently serves as a special assistant to Florida Marlins President David Samson, has staged baseball clinics at Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El in an attempt to teach the sport to children.

“They’re still fairly small when it comes to conducting clinics,” Dawson said. “I pitch the ball to them and work on hand-eye coordination. I want to introduce the sport and at this stage just let them have fun and enjoy themselves.”

Bloom is one of the staff members who has developed a strong relationship with the former major league baseball player, who was National League Rookie of the Year in 1977 and Most Valuable Player in 1987.

“Andre is a true gentleman and has been just amazing and incredible,” Bloom said. “The kids love him, and he relates well to them. We absolutely feel he is the right person to be our national spokesperson.”

Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El is the only Jewish day school in Plantation. The summer camp hosts children ranging in age from 16 months to 6 years. The camp has a number of activities, including baseball, tennis, soccer, karate, bike races, cheerleading, cooking, arts and crafts, face painting, treasure hunts, bounce house, kabbalat shabbat, weekly ice cream truck and weekly shows.

“The program is tremendous, and it’s a warm family setting,” said Saul Kravec, president of Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El. “Our kids also do extremely well academically.”

Temple Kol Ami Emanu-El has a number of longtime staff members, including the directors of the Early Childhood Program, Norma Cahen, Stacey Katz, Toni Weissberg and Dvir Weiss.

Dawson was excited to have an opportunity to volunteer his time with children in Plantation.

“It’s what really motivates me, having the chance to be a mentor and give back to the community and make a difference,” he said.

On July 25, Dawson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“It’s going to be exciting, and I get to share it with my family and friends,” Dawson said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. I am going to enjoy the moment and make the best of it.”