By Amy Cherry, Mark Fowser
June 7, 2017
Giving youth an alternative to crime–that’s the aim of a summer program being hosted by the YMCA in Wilmington.
“We need to wrap our arms around the kids who are growing up in this city,” said Attorney General Matt Denn.
“There are kids who just want to be happy like everybody else, and they’re in a neighborhood and an environment where that happiness gets snatched away from them,” said Mayor Mike Purzycki.
The Central YMCA’s “Take on Summer” program is being expanded to all Y branches in the state, starting this year; it offers free use of the YMCA’s gym and pools as well as classes in cooking, photography and STEM-related activities to help provide youth, ages 12-18, with productive things to do this summer. Free lunch and other meals are also provided.
In the wake of a 6-year-old boy being shot in the head near a city park, Denn said Tuesday programs like the summer youth program are needed now more than ever.
“We need to lift them up, and we need to give them real hope and real opportunity and that starts, literally, when they are born,” said Denn.
“The hours that young people are with us, we know that they’re safe, so the more hours the kids are not idle and on the street and hanging out, they’re less likely to get caught in the crossfire of some really serious issues we have in our city and in other cities downstate as well,” said Deborah Bagatta-Bowles, Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of Delaware.
Programs like “Take on Summer” can change the trajectory of a child’s life, Purzycki said, and he can only work toward continuing to improve the ecosystem of violence in Wilmington.
“There is a generosity about the YMCA’s culture that transcends location, and I just think we’re so lucky to have a healthy, thriving YMCA in this neighborhood,” he said.
Denn fought for a portion of the state’s one-time bank settlement monies to be applied to after-school and summer youth programs, which he called critical to crime prevention.
“Where kids outside of school hours–whether its before school or after school or on weekends or during the summer can continue to have a safe and secure environment, where they can be and where they can have further enrichment and be on the path to succeeding,” said Denn.
Kemuel Harding, of Wilmington, will take part in the program this summer for the second time; he lives just 10 minutes from the Central YMCA.
“I was a really shy person; I was timid, I didn’t talk much, but getting around people my age, I interacted with them…and I got more comfortable, so I have to attribute my shyness kind of being broken to the Y because they helped me get past it,” he told WDEL.
“We have a little more of a loose structure because young people like to do what they like to do–so there is a daily itinerary and schedule, but there’s a lot of choice in the program so if young people want to listen to music or play basketball–they have that choice,” said Bagatta-Bowles.
Some programs focus on getting that first job, time management, and being more successful in school.
Harding said the YMCA provides valuable learning opportunities.
“You have to want to do those things, like last year, I pushed myself to read during the summer–that’s not always the easiest thing, when you get out of school, but it’s not really ever done learning, and with the help from the people at the Y they motivated me…if I didn’t understand a word…if I didn’t know the word or the meaning, I usually go to the dictionary, sometimes I even go to them for help, so I appreciated it,” said Harding.
Denn hoped local businesses and private donors will step up and help sustain the summer youth programs in the future.
“All of those things are just a critical part of making this city what we want it to be and having kids who are born and raised in this city have what they are entitled to do which is an opportunity to succeed and to fulfill their potential.”
The “Take on Summer” program starts June 19 and runs through August 25, 2017. Space is limited. Call Chrissy Shiring, Associate Executive Director for the Central and Walnut Street YMCA for more information at 302.254.9622 ext. 128.