It's the Dayton YMCA, but Teens from All Over are Welcome Here
The Dayton YMCA offers local teenagers a safe and comfortable place away from home.
Justine Ryan is the Program Director at the Dayton YMCA and has seen the Teen Center grow in her four years there. She says the Center sees an average of around 40 kids a day and that the program continues to be a success. She also believes that teens and parents in neighboring cities don't realize that the Center exists, or that their they are welcome there, too.
“A lot of people still don't know that the Teen Center exists. Cities everywhere have always expressed an interest in getting teens off the streets and walking around and that's the whole purpose of having a place for them to go, hang out and be safe,” Ryan said. “We've always been the Dayton YMCA Teen Center and just because our city is smaller and the other communities are so close by, we've just always welcomed in any teenager.”
Grades 6 through 12 are welcome after school at the Center where they can study and do homework, relax and hang out, eat a snack or play games.
“We really use the teen center as a hangout place. It's kind of like a structure-free hangout time for them. We have room where they can study and do homework. We have table tennis, a pool table, video games, foosball, televisions, computers, and music,” Ryan said.
The YMCA has received grant funding through the Kentucky Board of Education called the 21st Century Program that allows them to partner with three local schools: Bellevue High School, Dayton High School, and Lincoln Elementary School.
Ryan said that the Teen Center has served as a place for teachers and homework helpers that need extra time away from school.
“The 21st Century Program funds the after-school help with the teachers and those take place at the different schools, but we have also had several times where teachers will come over to the Teen Center if they want extra hours and they can help them there. Our staff also will help the kids with their homework whenever they need it,” she said.
The City of Dayton has also been very helpful to the Teen Center and its programming, contributing money towards the Center and not always charging rentin the city-owned building. In addition to helping financially, the residents of the community also assist with their skills and manpower.
“We recently just had a Dayton community member build because we have some kids that have expressed interest in music as far as dancing or instruments or singing, so we really want to utilize that and bring in bands that aren't able to perform in school. We even want to bring in college bands that are playing good music. We also want to have an open-mic program here as well,” said Ryan about the community efforts.
Along those lines, the Teen Center offers songwriting programs for aspiring musicians and also hit on other interests kids have like video game design.
The Dayton YMCA is eager to work more closely with the City of Bellevue. It is important for Ryan and the other staff members to inform the public of their availability to host teenagers after school from a variety of cities and neighborhoods, but as of now, Dayton is the only community helping out financially. One of the ways discussed to bring more kids from Bellevue and beyond is providing some form of transportation to bring them in.
“Even though the community is not that far away, we have the whole transportation issue as far as if kids are going to want to walk that whole way and is there a way to have a little shuttle system because we do have access to a small mini-bus. It's just about gauging the students' interest,” Ryan said.
After school, most teens like to eat and unwind with some form of recreation. The YMCA works with the Highlands United Methodist Church and they are USFDA approved and serve kids snacks and a hot meal in the evenings. The Y also partners with the First Baptist Church of Dayton which has a a full-sized gym.
“We have our staff come over and supervise open-gym times where they can play basketball and things like that.”
One of the elements that space at the YMCA prides itself on is that the program is very flexible to allow kids to visit without a lot of rigid policies that most teens dislike.
“We make it very flexible and don't put a lot of restrictions on the kids that they have to be in at this time or they can't come in,” Ryan said. “They do sign in and out just so that their parents know where they are, but the kids just enjoy having a space that is theirs, and they feel safe. They can just hang out and have a good time and just be away from younger siblings and kind of just have their own time. It's been around for a while now and I have seen it grow in many ways.”
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via Facebook