Positively the Heartland: The story behind Nebraska's Josh the Otter specialty license plates

Posted at 6:46 AM, Feb 04, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Drowning is the primary cause of accidental death for children under five years old, and the second leading cause for children 14 and under, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

An international organization, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is working to change that reality.

Their purpose is derived from unimaginable pain.

In 2008, Kathy and Blake Collingsworth were hosting family at their home when their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Joshua, slipped out of sight. They quickly found him in their backyard pool. Joshua was unconscious and unresponsive, and later died at the hospital.

"He was just a joy. He was so sweet and so angelic," Kathy said. "He literally was the perfect little angel."

In his honor, Joshua's parents launched the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation. Combining literacy and education, they've taken their message anywhere there's water.

"We've gone all the way from Alaska to Key West, Florida to Brunswick, Maine; we're up in Canada," Blake said.

One of their earliest endeavors was Josh The Otter, a book and programming around it aimed at initiating a conversation, which the Collingsworths felt wasn't happening enough.

"We spend so much time educating our children about stranger danger, don't touch the stove — it's hot, you know, you name it — trying to keep them safe," Blake said.

"And the number one cause we're not talking to our kids about, and we're not raising them up with, a respect for water."

More than 500,000 copies of Josh The Otter have gone to daycares, preschools and classrooms. The Foundation has also teamed up with various parks and recreation agencies to install life jacket loaner stations so boaters and swimmers can stay safe at no charge.

One of the most recent and substantial projects of the Collingsworths was building the Float 4 Life National Training Facility. It opened in 2019 as a place — not for children to learn to swim — but to learn to survive through a back-floating technique. Last year, 3,800 children received lessons.

"Seeing the children progress and flip on their back and float," Kathy paused. "That, to me, that's a life saved. That's one less statistic."

In January 2022, the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles debuted a specialty license plate featuring Josh the Otter. Money raised will help support water safety efforts, including that provided by JCMF, in the state.

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