LYNN — The Demakes Family YMCA will be free for all 7th and 8th graders in the city beginning later this month.
The free program, which begins Sept. 25, was approved by the Board of Directors of the Metro North YMCA during their meeting Wednesday.
“The city’s going through a very challenging time,” said Kathleen Walsh, President and CEO of YMCA of Metro North.
Walsh said the program was set up to allow more children to access all of the opportunities and programs the YMCA offers, which is usually at a price of around $78 a year.
Demakes Family YMCA Senior Executive Director Andrea Baez said kids will have full access to the Y’s programs, including a gym and fitness center, as well as a music studio, teen drop-in center, youth development center, healthy teaching kitchen, and technology facilities with computers and internet access.
“Kids who are engaged in sports are in practice after school,” Diaz said. “I think about those other kids. So, if you are not an athlete or if sports do not speak to you, what is it that you want to do?”
The YMCA also offers free hot meals, as well as a behavioral health clinic and support groups.
“This initiative is going to pay off tremendously,” said Ward 6 City Councilor Fred Hogan, who also heads the youth organization Stop The Violence: LYNN. “A lot of kids are going to be very happy….I’m so proud of what they’re doing over there.”
Hogan noted the program will be offered during a pivotal time in children’s lives.
“7th and 8th-grade kids are the kids we like to target, to really show them a positive thing, because it’s a very crucial time in their lives in middle school,” Hogan said.
Walsh said the original proposal was for just 8th graders to be included in the program, but after it was proposed, the Y leadership decided to go a step further to include 7th graders as well.
“Those middle school years really are a crossroads,” Walsh said. “You can engage in positive behavior or potentially negative behavior. Our goal was to influence positive behavior.”
As for other age groups, Walsh said the YMCA was committed to providing more opportunities to allow all young people to take advantage of the Y’s services as well.
“This is our starting point,” Walsh said. “We intend to do more….We pride ourselves on being a positive and safe organization and we want to do even more.”
Any 7th and 8th grader in Lynn, including those from St. Mary’s Lynn and KIPP Academy, will have the opportunity to take advantage of the program and must sign up with an adult and agree to the Y’s code of conduct.
Baez said kids having the Y as a place to go to after school will allow parents to have peace of mind.
“They’ll feel a lot safer knowing their kids are in a safe place,” Hogan said.
Baez said the Y plans on hiring additional staff and encourages qualified volunteers to find out how they could get involved.
“We will be asking the community to come in, and we are looking to see if we can get mentors who want to come in and mentor these kids with us,” Baez said. “They need it. They need all arms around them right now in this city.”
Walsh noted the program is just part of the YMCA’s goal of improving the lives of young people in the city as a whole.
“We want to move the needle,” Walsh said. “We want to help Lynn achieve the greatness that it deserves.”