Since 2015, over 19,000 Calgary youth have been empowered to explore their community and develop life-long skills courtesy of a collaboration between the Calgary Flames Foundation and YMCA Calgary.
“We want to provide youth from all backgrounds with unstructured opportunities to be recreational, which will, at that age, help form healthy habits,” Candice Goudie, Executive Director of Charitable Foundations/Community Investment for the Calgary Flames, said.
The Calgary Flames YMCA Grade Six Program gives every grade six student in Calgary a free, one-year membership to the YMCA. The initiative was created to give city kids the chance to get active, build healthy relationships and have fun so they would be better equipped to make the transition from elementary to junior high.
For the YMCA Calgary, it’s been a resounding success.
“This has been one of the most important programs and collaborations in YMCA Calgary’s 118-year history,” Ken Lima-Coelho, VP of Community Engagement for the YMCA Calgary, said.
Part of that success has been its exceptional growth. In 2015, the first year of the program, 2,466 youth took advantage of the free membership. Last year, this grew to over 5000 students or roughly one-third of all grade six youth in the city.
That means 54,346 hours of YMCA programming that got kids off the couch and away from their screens to interact with their community in a positive, healthy way.
Inclusive, easy and dependable
The membership, which is offered to students from September to August, is available without any applications or other criteria.
“It is literally for every grade six student who lives in Calgary,” Candice said. “It’s easy; it’s simple. We think it makes a lot of sense.”
For students that means simply going to the closest YMCA with a parent or guardian and proving they are from the city and are in grade six. This creates a completely inclusive program that parents all over the city can depend on to give their child new, positive life experiences, no matter their circumstances.
“For many children, it’s their only opportunity to engage in community because it’s free, it’s widely accessible, and it’s not going anywhere,” Ken said.
According to the YMCA, 4 out of 5 of the youth in the program wouldn’t have been able to purchase a membership otherwise.
To make sure the program remains easy to access and dependable, The Calgary Flames Foundation has dedicated $2.25 Million and pledged to support it through to 2023, guaranteeing an impressive nine-year life for the initiative.
Getting into the habit
Those hours of programming and dollars spent are just the tip of the iceberg. From the beginning, both the YMCA and the Flames Foundation wanted to encourage positive habits and skills that would impact youth throughout their lives.
As the program ages, that mandate is being fulfilled.
“Kids are finding a community; they’re making good choices; they’re setting themselves up for success and moving more and connecting,” Ken said. “They’re having healthier experiences in not only grade six, but seven, eight, and nine.”
In fact, a full third of students who take advantage of the program are still members through to grade nine, according the YMCA.
As youth continue to come back and learn new skills, it gives them the confidence to take on new challenges, and approach life in a more active way – both physically and mentally.
“Because they have membership, they get reduced fees on day camps and opportunities to take leadership or babysitting courses,” Ken said.
It’s these social skills combined with an active lifestyle that empowers youth and gives them the tools to build a brighter future.
Looking forward, both Candice and Ken are excited to top last year’s goal-shattering numbers and create a lasting, positive impact on not just the youth, but the city at large.
If you or your child want to take advantage of the program, head over to the youth membership page, or simply fill out the registration form online and bring it in to Any Calgary YMCA location with a Grade 5 report card, school ID, or a signed letter from a teacher.