BELLOWS FALLS >> For the 19th consecutive year, Meeting Waters YMCA's Y-ASPIRE after-school program will provide important supports for hundreds of area youth, their working parents, the businesses that employ these parents, and the seven communities served by the program.
According to Meeting Waters YMCA's Program Director, Susan Fortier, Y-ASPIRE was designed in 1998 with a focus on multiple benefits.
"When Steve (executive director) and I created Y-ASPIRE 18 years ago, we applied all of our knowledge and experience in positive youth development, after-school programming, and family strengthening. As parents of two young children at the time, we also built in considerations of parents' needs — like all-day programming when schools are closed for in-service days, vacations and even most holidays. By doing all of that, we are supporting more than 200 youth each school year, the many hundreds of working parents and caregivers of these young people, the businesses that employee the parents, and the communities served by our programs because we are developing important life skills during 'the danger zone' each and every day."
According to Fortier, research shows that "the danger zone" from 3 to 6 p.m. is the time when children not enrolled in enriching after-school programs are likely to be physically inactive, not engaged in learning, and introduced to unhealthy behaviors.
"With our focus on the Developmental Assets approach to youth development — which research shows helps young people reduce risk behaviors while also building thriving behaviors — we are much more than a 'safe haven.' Yes, we are keeping kids safe. But, while we have these 200 or so young people in our care, we are developing building blocks that help them develop life skills and life habits that will serve them well into middle school, high school and into adulthood."
In 2015, Meeting Waters YMCA was recognized by Y-USA, the national resource center for the 2,700 Ys in America, as one of 18 "HEPA Champions" for its commitment to Healthy Eating and Physical Activity at Y-ASPIRE.
Y-ASPIRE takes place at Brattleboro's Oak Grove (which also serves Guilford Central School), Green Street, and Academy schools; Dummerston School; Putney Central School; and Rockingham Central Elementary School (which also serves Saxtons River Elementary School, Westminster Center School, and Bellows Falls Middle School).
Each day of a Y-ASPIRE program includes physical activity, nutritious snack, assisted study time, and a cooperative group project. Activities are centered around monthly themes such as Different But the Same; Our Community; and Kindness and Justice. Through various activities, students in Y-ASPIRE develop "life skills" such as cooperation, problem-solving, group decision-making and leadership. They also learn more about themselves, their community and their world. Periodic service learning projects benefit other community agencies. Monthly family events focus on strengthening healthy family habits.
Financial assistance for all Meeting Waters YMCA's Y-ASPIRE and other "out-of-school" programs is available through the VT Childcare Financial Assistance program and Meeting Waters YMCA's Reach Out to Youth scholarship fund which is built by donations. As in all of the YMCA's programs, no one will be denied access to Y-ASPIRE for lack of ability to pay full program fees. Fortier points out that over half of all Y-ASPIRE parents do not pay any program fees because the state's top rate for Child Care Financial Assistance covers five days a week of the program tuition.