The YMCA, Ensuring a Brighter Future

Karen Bissonette

Home Schooling Mom Utilizes Y For Socialization, Physical Activities

"I appreciate so much the gifts from the Y," says Karen Bissonette, who home schools her 9-year-old daughter, Wakinyan Win. "I can leave her there at the Y to participate in her activities or to just play, and I know that she'll be fine. I trust what goes on at the Y. It is all positive." As a homeschooling family, Karen and Wakinyan Win utilize the Y as part of their socialization and physical activity time. Wakinyan Win is enrolled in swim lessons and gymnastics, and she participates in special programs, such as cooking classes and log rolling. She's volunteered at the Spooky Hollow Invitational meet. "My daughter really likes having additional friends, rather than only other kids from her neighborhood," Karen says. 


As the well-known quote goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." As a single mother, Karen so highly values the Y that she's made it part of her village. "It's my hand-picked village that helps me raise my child," Karen says. "Staff members will direct my child, and I expect them to."


Staff often tell her Wakinyan Win acts respectful and responsible, important values for Karen as she raises her daughter. Teaching her humility, empathy and right from wrong are other priorities. Whether at the Y or at home, Wakinyan Win holds responsibilities, such as caring for her nephew, gardening and cleaning. "This builds character and teaches comprehensive life skills," Karen says. "I am raising an adult."


Karen shares about a time a Y staff member noticed Wakinyan Win had homework that she wasn't doing. He asked her to finish it, and even called Karen the next day to follow up. "I've been so grateful for that type of attention for my daughter," Karen says. "The young men and women show great, appropriate interest in the kids at the Y by being strong role models."


Y members for several years, Karen and Wakinyan Win are currently recipients of the financial assistance program, which is funded by the Strong Kids Campaign. They value the Y and the gift of financial assistance enough to give back by sharing their story of how the Y positively impacts their lives: They both gladly spoke on stage in front of 400 Y staff during a rally this spring. 


Karen herself is a highly educated woman, studying at the master's degree level. She has taught in schools and on Native American reservations. After teaching during the day, Karen works evening hours at a physically depanding job for UPS. Wakinyan Win stays with her grandparents - another important part of her "village" - while her mother works. "My family is crazy-important to us," says Karen, who has another older daughter, Tia. "We all spend time together constantly."


Wakinyan Win means "thunder woman" from her Oglala Lakota heritage, which Karen enjoys teaching her about, along with the traditional school subjects. Karen sees the benefits of instructing her daughter in non-traditional ways, such as through watching movies and documentaries; going to plays, symphonies, and aquariums; studying on the Internet; and doing community service. A field trip to a cultural resource or wilderness venue starts and ends each school year. "Overall in my home school, my main goal is to instill in Wakinyan Win, an overwhelming passion for learning, no matter what the subject," she says.


- By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC. 2013