YMCA Youth: Achievement, Growth, Fun

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By West Cook YMCA

At the West Cook YMCA, Youth Development is a key component to building strong communities. Through structured activities and plenty of time for play, the Before and After-School Program, Y-Kids, and Camp Magellan summer camp are helping children cultivate the values, skills and relationships that lead to positive behavior, better health and educational achievement.

Y-Kids serves children in kindergarten through grade eight and provides crucial support for families during before and after school hours, operating from 7 a.m. in the morning until 7 p.m. in the evening.

Rebecca Boblett, School Age Coordinator, says that the day's after school schedule is designed with a purpose. "We focus on relationship building. We create a sense of belonging with our programs and instill confidence by helping youth try new things and learn new skills."

Each day begins with arrival activities, which help the children unwind after a long day at school. Ice-breaker time follows in which the children problem solve with their classmates and teachers. Snacks are provided, and students can get assistance with homework or work quietly on their own. Each day includes a project-based activity, which focuses on science, art or physical activity.

The Y-Kids program moved to St. John's Lutheran Church in Forest Park this year, and Youth Development Director Elizabeth Lopez says the new space has provided room for more students as well as an increased flexibility in programming. "We can use best practice programming because we don't have to coordinate times with other groups. We have access on-site to the gym and kitchen that is dedicated to our programming."

The proximity to the West Cook YMCA means that students can still participate in swimming classes or youth sports at the Y, which Lopez says is a big convenience for busy families. "The kids can have a snack, do their homework and get in swim lessons, all before going home for family time with their parents."

When school is out for the summer, the transition to Camp Magellan is easy as campers are already familiar with the St. John's space. Like Y-Kids, Camp Magellan focuses on achievement, relationships, belonging, and character building.

Summer is a great time to get outdoors, and Camp Magellan campers swim outside and have nature time each week at nearby forest preserves. Youth Choice lets campers infuse their ideas into some of the activities during the camp day. Campers plan and implement activities for the camp day, which Lopez says builds a sense of confidence.

There is something about summer camp she says, that really helps children build strong relationships. "At summer camp, achievement can be so much more than just doing well in school. There are a wide variety of ways to succeed from softball skills to reciting a poem at the talent show. Our counselors really help hone in on that with each camper."

Camp Magellan operates from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, providing options for working parents that may not exist elsewhere in the community. With Y-Kids and Camp Magellan operating out of the same space, Lopez sees a real benefit to both participants and the neighborhoods served by the West Cook YMCA.

"Being at the same location for the entire calendar year builds a great sense of community."

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