Arts & Culture Community Maplewood Opinion South Orange

Treasure the South Mountain YMCA — a ‘Central Institution in Our Lives’

We come to the South Mountain YMCA because it is like going home. It’s almost impossible to think of our lives in SOMA without the Y. From daycare to afterschool care, vacation camp to summer camp, the Y is a thread that runs through every single week of our lives. We first chose the Y for its good reputation and the fact that it provides year-round, full-day care. On a basic level, the Y extends our parenting ability, providing safe and enriching care during times that we are working and fulfilling other responsibilities. What began as a practical decision, though, has grown over time to be one of the central institutions in our lives.

In 2007, our 5 month-old daughter joined an infant room at the Y. She had already figured out how to roll over on her own, but we joke that every single other thing she learned – sitting up, standing, eating food, walking, counting, writing her name – she learned at the Y. When our son was born, he was welcomed into the Y family from the moment he arrived. Y friends, teachers, field trips, and stories are woven into our family lore. They’re now in elementary and middle school, and the South Mountain Y is still a central fixture in our lives with School Age Child Care, Y camps, and the biggest deal in our family over the past several years – the youth theatre programs!

The Y theatre programs have been an incredible resource for our family. The impact overall is so much more than just a fun afterschool activity. Through their on-going participation in the theatre program, they have stretched themselves and developed so many important life skills. Being part of something bigger than themselves, learning how their contributions fit into a larger whole, drawing strength and courage from fellow ensemble members to venture outside their comfort zones, being proud of themselves and fellow cast members, coping with disappointment, recovering from mistakes – these are some of the deep impacts I see, and as a parent I find these priceless. What’s even more rewarding is that after each performance, they keep opting back in. I love that they see themselves as part of the Y theatre community and it is a home for them.

The directors are a major part of the magic of the program. They are incredibly talented with some serious theatre chops! Yet it’s also clear that they are there to make more than just an excellent production – it’s about engaging and loving and supporting the kids, meeting them where they are, trusting and encouraging them, and most of all caring about how they are as people, not just as performers.

The addition of the Teen Theatre program this year has been phenomenal. The inaugural musical, Newsies, was outstanding. Everyone worked so hard, learned so many new skills, and also embraced the larger social issues and messages of the play. Now in the spring, they are working in a completely different way, tackling Shakespeare and adapting A Midsummer Night’s Dream into a newly imaged story set in a different time and place. I love the message this gives, that our kids are completely equal to this challenge and have what it takes to create something unique and valuable.

Through the continuous generosity of our community, the South Mountain YMCA has provided over $308,000 in direct financial aid. Donate today at http://www.metroymcas.org/smygive.

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