Making a difference in the community

In 1889, the Greater Burlington YMCA established the first physical education program in the state of Vermont — building a gymnasium in our facility at 129 Church Street where young men came to play basketball and gathered together for other social activities.

More than 120 years later, physical education remains a major priority for the Y, especially at a time when school-based programs are dwindling and childhood obesity is on the rise. Here’s what we’re doing to deliver on that priority:

  • Working with Activate VT — a broad-based community initiative committed to increasing physical activity and improving access to healthy foods through state-wide policy change. Through this initiative, we’re developing a pilot program in the Burlington Public Schools. This program will help teachers implement and manage daily active play for students in grades K-8. As a result, kids will have a better chance of maintaining a healthy body weight; building healthy bones and muscles; increasing their self-esteem and attention span; and setting the stage for being active throughout their lives.
  • Developing and launching the Smart Meal program within Burlington’s elementary, middle and high schools. The Smart Meal seal quickly identifies foods that are lower in fat, calories and sodium—helping students and teachers better identify healthy eating options.
  • Introducing the Rise and Shine program to Winooski’s JFK Elementary School. Now, thanks to a grant from the Vermont Health Foundation, all K-5th graders who qualify for school breakfast can now participate in this 25-minute session of physical activity, twice per week. With the assistance of Dr. Nancy Drucker and medical students at Fletcher Allen Health Care, we will have measurable outcomes from the program that will enable us to replicate Rise and Shine throughout Chittenden County’s school districts in the months and years ahead.

Of course, helping our community live healthier lives is just one of three major priorities for the Y. We’re also committed to nurturing the potential of youth—because we believe that the values and skills they learn early on are vital building blocks for quality of life. Here are some examples of how we’re delivering on that promise:

  • We opened a new site at Barre Town School. In response to the urgent need for quality, safe afterschool programming, we brought the Y to Barre. Now, at-risk youth have a safe place to go after school—where they enhance their studies through science, math and literacy activities; learn about the importance of physical activity and healthy food choices; learn to support their neighbors through community service projects; and, most importantly, learn how to be themselves.
  • We’re gearing up for a packed summer of camp programming. Through our resident program at Camp Abnaki, our day camp on the shores of Kingsland Bay at Camp Greylock, and our school-age, specialty and Leaders in Training camps – youth and teens will be learning independence, gaining new skills and confidence, making lifetime friends, and having fun for the next 8 weeks.

And — the Y is about social responsibility. We’re passionate about giving back and supporting our neighbors. Here are just a few small examples of our work in this area:

  • We offer free memberships to all Winooski students in grades 6 – 12. We recognized that one in four Winooski youth have an incarcerated parent—and that many Winooski families live below the federal poverty level — and wanted to do something to help. As a result, 88 kids now have a constructive way to process the challenges of their home lives. Whether they’re playing pickup basketball in the gym, increasing their confidence and self-esteem by conquering a Zumba class, or just “being kids” with peers who understand them, the Y provides a safe environment supervised by positive role models.
  • We gave away more than $400,000 in scholarships, subsidies and financial assistance in 2010. Whether closing the affordability gap for working families who otherwise couldn’t afford quality early education for their children, or helping a senior on a fixed income maintain health and independence through reduced or waived membership fees, we are a charitable, cause-driven organization dedicated to providing equal opportunities for all of our neighbors, regardless of their financial situation.

These are just a few of many examples of how we’re making a real, lasting difference in people’s lives.

Do you have a story about how the Y made an impact on your life? I’d love to hear it. You can post your story in the comments section; email me directly; or by interacting on our Facebook page.

Thanks for being part of our cause!

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