The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is expanding its “Get Summer” program offering free memberships and meals for teens after high demand during its rollout in 2017.
They have room for 6,250 teens this summer, up from 4,800 last year. The memberships give participants access to all the typical YMCA amenities — gyms, pools, weight rooms and fitness classes — and based on feedback from last year’s teen members, the Y is adding programs about leadership development, college readiness and diversity and inclusion.
“The Y is a really safe space for young people throughout the summer, ” said Chad Lanners, senior vice president of operations. “Statistics show risky behaviors like drinking and violence have an opportunity to increase during the summer when time is less structured.”
But the greater concern today, when technology is so prevalent, might be around what teens are not doing, Lanners said. Get Summer creates opportunities for teens to make friends and build their skills face-to-face.
“Young people are sitting on their phones, watching the TV, navigating the computer,” Lanners said.
The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, created in 2004 by the Best Buy founder, has given the YMCA $500,000 over three years to offer the Get Summer program. Sign-up starts June 1 online or at Y branches for teens entering grades nine through 12. The teen memberships are valid at 25 local YMCAs from June 4 to Aug. 31.
“Last year, we actually had parents and youth lined up outside of our doors at 4:15 in the morning. We were one of the first sites to fill,” said Molly Hanson, Elk River YMCA executive director. “It was really exciting.”
Many of the teen members are new to Y, said Courtney Harrness, executive director of the Shoreview branch. Last summer, they visited Y branches a combined 30,000 times.
A group of teens from Roseville Area High School who participated last summer are all ready to hand in their applications this year. The teens visited the Shoreview Y three times a week last year and trained together for a summer fitness challenge. They took yoga classes, used the pool and the weight room and also met other community members.
“The staff was really great and really welcoming,” said Tiiso Tshane, a junior. “It kept me motivated to come back.”
As a young person of color, Tshane said, it felt good to be embraced and welcomed.
Sophomore Rohit Koirala said his time at the Y helped him recover from a soccer injury.
“It felt like a safe environment,” Koirala said. “I feel more confident. I am bigger, faster, stronger.”
Participants are required to attend orientation so they can learn about the programs and services available to them. Other YMCAs across the country, including those in Los Angeles, Boston and Richmond, Va., have offered similar programs.
The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is also trying to fill gaps left by nonprofits that have closed or scaled back their programs for kids and teens. Funding for programs meant to give them a place to go after school or during the summer has declined federally, statewide and among philanthropic organizations, said Matt Kjorstad, executive director of the Harold Mezile North Community YMCA in Minneapolis.
“That just means we need to be more creative on how we provide experiences for young people,” Kjorstad said.