Offers Welcoming, Caring, Safe Space
A new program fills a need for youth that want to spend time at the La Crosse Area Family YMCA during the evenings and on weekends. Youth Engagement serves non-members ages 7 to 13 in a structured and caring environment by offering an array of activities for the kids. These include doing homework, cooking meals, and utilizing the prime time and family fun centers, as well as the gym and swimming pool. Most importantly, the program creates a positive, warm, and safe space for youth.
Danielle Person’s three children love Youth Engagement, and it gives her peace of mind to know they’re in a secure and friendly place. “They get to engage in more activities,” Person says. “Growing up with a single mom, they have great male role models here at the Y.”
Children need a strong desire to participate in the program. It’s obvious Person’s children want to partake in Youth Engagement. When Person’s family schedule gets booked with other commitments, she says it’s “bad news” for her kids when she informs them they can’t go to Youth Engagement that night. Her daughter Jaybriel, a fifth-grader, and her two sons J’Shaun, a sixth-grader, and Jayonte’, a second-grader, eagerly share their enthusiasm for Youth Engagement. J’Shaun’s face lights up when he talks about playing basketball at the Y, and Jayonte’ and Jaybriel share their excitement about being with friends in the prime time and family fun centers. Jaybriel expresses that she most loves to dance. They enjoy cooking and recall with smiles the fried chicken and rice they made for dinner one night. The children reveal how they appreciate that staff assists them with schoolwork. “It’s awesome,” J’Shaun says. “I like how the staff takes their free time to help us and to play with us.”
Along with activities at the Y, Youth Engagement participants have the opportunity to enjoy several field trips throughout the year. They’ve done trick-or-treating and attended “The Nutcracker” at Viterbo University. It’s a strong testament that the La Crosse Area Family YMCA is a youth-serving organization dedicated to providing interesting and engaging programs for children of all ages. Prior to having an official Youth Engagement program, children would arrive on their own to the Y during evening hours after school and on weekends. Now these youth are supervised and have an evening meal too.
“Youth Engagement is all about creating a safe and welcoming space,” says director Sarah Jackson. “It’s a small program and it’s at full capacity of 20 children. There’s a waiting list.” The small size enables staff to more easily engage with youth, and children are required to remain with staff. To maintain the structure, when a youth signs in for the evening, they must stay in the program until they sign out. This not only keeps children safe, but it also reduces traffic throughout the Y where members spend time. Hours for the program are 5 to 9 p.m. on week days and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends.
The Youth Code of Conduct for Youth Engagement is another important requirement to participate in the program and to keep it operating smoothly. By meeting these standards, parents and children know participation at the Y is a privilege earned by following expectations and the conduct code. Youth participants are always expected to demonstrate the YMCA values of honesty, caring, respect, and responsibility. The program became more formal in the fall of 2015 when Jackson was hired to serve as director of Youth Engagement. The Persons children freely give her hugs, as do many other kids she sees at the Y. “They know I really care about them,” Jackson says. – By Kim Seidel, Seidel Ink LLC