The Christian Street YMCA Branch has impacted the community with its facilities and events as well as a connection with local businesses and schools for 40 years.
Senior Program Director Jennifer Leupold said the YMCA has brought a strong sense of community to Graduate Hospital by ordering from its local corner store almost everyday to partnering with local schools. Since a majority of the employees live in the neighborhood, they enjoy helping local children and making the community a better place. It also has strong ties with the South of South Neighborhood Association, Friends of Chester Arthur, E.M. Stanton School and the 17th Police District.
One of programs offered through a partnership with the YMCA and Stanton is called Splash Week and has provided water safety and swim lessons to children who may not know how to swim. The week before summer starts, Stenton’s gym teachers walk students to the YMCA after school to participate in an hour of free swimming.
“Kids from urban areas and the minority youth drown in rates that are two to three times higher than their white counterparts,” Leupold said, “so national statistics show we are in a huge risk area.”
Leupold said the YMCA has been coordinating with SOSNA for many events. It has also joined in the association’s free family events and have run the activities for children, she said. All of the activities are healthy and family friendly so anyone can participate.
The YMCA’s mission has focused on healthy living, youth development and social responsibility for participants of all ages, but children are its biggest target group. “We try to engage kids in a variety of ways,” Leupold said.
The Y Achievers is a mentorship and developmental program for children in fifth to twelfth grade. Participantss in the program receive a free membership to the YMCA. The program runs all school year and it partners a child with an adult role model and emphasizes post-secondary education.
“The Y is not just about physical activities,” Leupold said. “At the biweekly meetings, adult mentors come in and talk about dressing for success, SAT and ACT preparation and peer mediation. We make sure kids have the tools they need to deal with those situations.”
Physical activity is also a big part of the YMCA’s youth programs because it helps prevent childhood obesity. “Our swim program can start as young as six months. It creates a bonding time within the family, and also connects new moms with new moms and new dads with new dads,” said Leupold. “We want to support family relationships.”
Malik Tappe, the youth coordinator, instructs classes in which the parent participates with the child during gym sports and swimming activities. Tappe also runs instructional basketball classes for children ages 3 to 10. “I also teach a sampler class, which is a mix of sports like hockey, flag football, soccer, basketball and even badminton,” Tappe said.
Both Leupold and Tappe said the YMCA’s impact in the community is effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has doubled over the past 30 years and Christian Street YMCA has made it a mission to tackle the issue in its local community.
“A lot of our kids aren’t too much over weight, but they are on the borderline,” Tappe said. “But you can see as the kids grow, they begin to stretch and thin out. We just want to keep them active.”
Leupold said there are many events held by the YMCA to help promote a healthier lifestyle. On Saturday, the neighborhood experienced Healthy Kids Day, which she described as a youth health fair. During the event, asthma and diabetes vendors taught people about the dangers of childhood obesity. They focused on how to prevent prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes and is more likely to develop in children with obesity.
The youth monthly membership fee is $12.77, but the YMCA does offer smaller payment plans for members to pay $6 or $8 a month. However, if your child is in the youth program, it has allowed people to upgrade to a family membership which waives the $112 sign up fee.
“We want the whole family to be involved and active. Parents can drop off their kids with us and go workout upstairs, exercise in the pool, read a book or just relieve some stress,” Tappe said.
Since 1973, the Christian Street YMCA has given local children a safe place to play and have fun. The organization’s public programs have created a close relationship between its staff and the local community. Tappe said he can’t walk down the street without giving high fives to kids yelling, “Mr. Malik” or “Coach Malik.” He said the surrounding playgrounds are not playgrounds for the children anymore which is why the YMCA is so important in the neighborhood.
“They are trying to renovate the playground on Washington Avenue. But the chances of having fun over there are slim to none, especially with the old faulty equipment,” Tappe said. “The Y is where it’s at.”