BY CHELSEA CULLEN
When you take a quiet moment and think about the kind of person you hope your child grows up to be—what is in your picture? Are they kind? Do they make healthy choices? Are they driven and successful, but without forsaking their values?
As parents, it’s easy to get so focused on the busyness of everyday life that you don’t take those moments to reflect as often as you’d like. You’re busy doing your best to shape your child into the person you hope they will become, but the truth is, you’re not in this alone. Every day, your little one (or not so little if you’ve got a teenager on your hands!) is influenced by the people around them—teachers, friends, teammates, coaches—and, for many families in our community, the people they meet at the Y.
This past year, the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina welcomed a new CEO and President to lead the nearly 130-year-old organization. He has experienced the impact of Y programs firsthand. “I started my involvement with the Y as a day camper and swim lesson participant at the YMCA in Charlotte. Those experiences were not only fun, but helped me learn new skills, and most importantly, gain the confidence that every child needs and deserves,” said Stan Law, the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina’s new CEO. “During those experiences and then as a young employee of the Y, I realized that the Y’s values perfectly aligned with my own and that the Y could be my platform to be a servant leader, allowing me to inspire and positively impact children, adults, families and entire communities. For me, working for the Y is not a job or a career, but a calling.”
How the Y approaches youth and teen development programs is driven by core character values and a relentless focus on helping young people become the best versions of themselves, so that they grow into thriving adults. From Youth and Government to Black and Latino Achievers to TYDE swim team and an unmatched range of youth sports, the Y offers avenues for every child and teen to reach their full potential.
Who They Are and What They Can Achieve
There are some sports that require a great deal of dedication, and in return, the sport changes you in the process. That’s TYDE swim team. The nationally-ranked, competitive team is a year-round swim team that offers various tracks ranging from recreational to nationally-competitive. “Swimmers build confidence and a strong work ethic as they develop goal-setting and time-management skills,” says Nathan Durrell, Director of Competitive Swimming for the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina.
In many cases, the first step to achieving your dreams is knowing what’s possible, then believing in yourself enough to make it happen. That’s the focus of YMCA Black and Latino Achievers, programs that focus on academic and career achiever. Each month, community leaders speak to local students about potential careers. Participants also have the opportunity to tour college campuses. “For students in our Achievers programs, it’s incredibly important to see successful adults from similar backgrounds,” said Vivian Perez Chandler, YMCA Latino Achievers Director. “It helps them to envision themselves in those roles as adults and understand all the options that are available to them.”
Role Models Outside of Their Family
YMCA Staff are professional role models. Even volunteer coaches in YMCA Sports focus on character development. This spring, a new program will roll out that focuses on a “word of the week.” Each week, a volunteer coach will discuss with his or her team how words such as respect, responsibility, faith, and sportsmanship impact the player both during the game and after.
In YMCA Youth and Government, high school students work together to learn the governmental process. They are paired with peers who are also focused on their future and build a supportive environment to achieve.
In YMCA Achievers programs, adult leaders from various sectors—government, technology, the arts, and more—speak to students about what it takes to succeed and offer advice on building a future career.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says, “Children look up to a variety of role models to help shape how they behave in school, relationships, or when making difficult decisions.” As children and teens grow up, having a strong network of role models both inside and outside their family is critical to their growth and future success.
Learning How to Fail Forward
“Sports aren’t always about whether you win or lose, but about what you learn in the process,” said Jay Sutton, Executive Director of YMCA Sports. For younger ages, Y sports don’t keep score and focus on a broad understanding of sports and physical activity that leads to a lifelong love of staying active and fit. Even in the more competitive ages, the focus is on achieving goals in a supportive environment with caring adults.
The same goes for other Y programs. In Youth and Government, students present bills they have drafted in a mock youth legislature. The process teaches public speaking skills along with learning about the governmental process. The bills are then voted on, an experience that helps students understand that feedback—both positive and negative—can help you be stronger in the long run. On the TYDE swim team, swimmers may not win every meet, but they do learn how to work harder than the previous personal best and set goals to achieve for next time.
Along the way, these programs are not only teaching values, but also resilience, which, studies show, leads to improved learning and academic achievement and better overall physical health.
True Health is in Spirit, Mind, and Body
The Y’s mission is, “Helping people reach their God-given potential in spirit, mind and body,” which extends to every program. The Y is focused on so much more than just the activity; staff and volunteers are focused on helping to build a balanced, well-rounded person as a whole. For youth sports, Executive Director Jay Sutton says, “Our ultimate goal is to ensure youth are prepared for life by helping them achieve, build relationships and feel like they belong.”
True, TYDE swimmers have made it to the Olympic trials, but coaches actually work with each swimmer’s ability level to help them succeed and reach their individual goals. TYDE has grown to become one of the largest and most respected swim teams in North Carolina and across the country. The team’s philosophy is to develop swimmers who are better prepared in life by being better prepared in the water.
All of the Y programs featured here, as well as all programs and membership at the Y, are available to everyone in the community, thanks to Open Doors Financial Assistance. Each year, the Y raises money through the Annual Giving Campaign to fund scholarships for children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the full cost to participate. The Y is so much more than only a place to work out, it’s a charitable organization focused on strengthening our community and all the individuals in it.
Youth and Government
Youth and Government is a YMCA-sponsored program for high school students across North Carolina that provides the chance to participate in a mock youth legislature. There are opportunities for news reporting, writing, debating and lobbying for or against bills. The highlight of the program is a weekend-long trip to Raleigh, where the students present and debate bills in the State Legislative Building with more than 1,000 teens from across the state.
Black and Latino Achievers
Black and Latino Achievers is an academic achievement and career development program for students in Middle and High School. The purpose is to help teens set and pursue high educational and career goals, resulting in high school graduation and acceptance into an institution of higher learning and successful entry into a career of their choosing.
TYDE is a year-round USA & YMCA swim team offering a full range of programming for all ages. It is a neighborhood swim team, operating out of every pool in the Northwest NC YMCA Association, which stretches from Kernersville to Wilkesboro. TYDE has a professionally trained and certified coaching staff who use the YMCA core values of honesty, caring, respect and responsibility as the foundation for our instruction. Practice groups are broken up based on age, ability, and commitment level to ensure that there is a path and a group for every swimmer.
With a wide range of sports including soccer, flag football, t-ball/baseball, lacrosse, volleyball, as well as a large basketball program for all ages. Sports at the Y are about more than whether you win or lose. The focus is on building character, along with athletic skills. It’s about making friends and developing a lifelong passion for sports—all in a supportive environment with caring adults. Learn more at ymcanwnc.org/sports.