Right now more than 16 million kids in the U.S. are living in poverty – the most since 1962. The problem is worse where construction industries have struggled. Last year, in Collier County alone, there were more than 1,400 homeless children.
While the Y can’t tackle the collapse of the housing industry, we can provide a place for homeless children and their families to come together to feel safe, secure and connected.
In January, the Greater Naples YMCA began partnering with the Collier County school district to provide short-term family memberships and select youth programs to homeless kids at no cost. We’re calling this our Open Doors program.
Families for the program are identified and referred by the school district. The Y provides these families with a free three-month family membership and their kids can sign up for youth sports, swim lessons, etc – basically any youth program except for child care.
The Smith family became members of the Y in early February through its Open Doors program. The two boys, ages 9 and 12, both became quickly involved in Y programs, including youth sports and camps. The youngest says being in youth sports was the first time he’d ever had a chance to make friends. Both boys are gaining not only physical strength and skills, but also self-confidence. Their teachers have commented on the positive improvement in both boys.
The grandmother knew she needed to make exercise a more routine part of her life, but she was incredibly intimidated and didn’t know where to start. She was so nervous before her first orientation that she bit her nails down to the quick. Our Y staff worked with her to overcome her fears and she’s now trying new classes and exercising regularly.
We are proud to be a part of DCF’s Partners for Promise program so we can connect the Y to the community even more. It is stories like the Smith’s that make these efforts worthwhile. Just one gesture can make all the difference in the lives of an entire family.