Children are the future. They are the hope for this world. If a child does not have an opportunity to shine, to feel special, unique, important, or loved, the world gets darker for us all. When children are given the keys to open their own potential, they can set the world on fire. Let me tell you a secret: The YMCA is handing out keys.
Michael, my oldest son, is very athletic. He’s got amazing speed and agility, with feet that fly up the soccer fields like wings have sprouted from his shoes. He ran his first 5K race when he was six. His golf swing is huge and accurate. He has hiked trails in the mountains of Montana and the hills of Idaho. Wide open spaces call to this kid like nothing else. School is not his favorite place in the world. Reading is not his favorite subject. Writing? Well, getting Michael to sit and spend time on sentence structures and paragraph forms can sometimes feel like an Olympic event. For the both of us. Some schooldays can just leave us droopy.
I never really considered how a gym could possibly affect Michael’s outlook on his schooling or on his life in general until he joined one of my classes at our local Homecourt YMCA. Because, yeah, the YMCA welcomes people of all ages and abilities. And it’s not just the staff who encourage participation; the members are amazing. The Y is more of an extended family unit. Everyone under the roof is a part of the genetic makeup of the Y’s functionality. Michael got sucked into this family over the summer when he began Boot Camp under the instruction of AK Whittaker. Boot Camp. With adults. That’s all sorts of crazy weight lifting, core-strengthening, stair-running, plate-pushing fun.
The morning of his first class, Michael asked me what he should expect. Understandably, he was nervous; the grownups all knew what they were doing. Up to this point, he’d only participated in his own sports and gone for runs with me or his dad. This would be his first experience using weights and other equipment. I didn’t know what to expect having him with me, either; the stuff we did was HARD. It made adults sweat and complain. It made movements on the following day slow and achy. How would it make a ten-year-old feel?
Let me tell you.
It would make a ten-year-old feel strong, empowered, and capable. It would make him walk with his head up, his shoulders back, and a bright glint in his gorgeous blue eyes. It would fill him with confidence and positive energy.
And it would make a mama’s heart swell in gratitude.
Over that summer, to keep Michael up on his writing skills, I gave him homework assignments. One prompt, towards the end of break, required him to write about something that he enjoyed doing. He sat and wrote a full page about Boot Camp. His words touched on the fun activities and what he hoped to gain by way of strength, but the core of his paper covered how he’d been worried at the beginning, and how now “everybody is excited to see me there. My instructor is a good one, and everybody thinks I do a good job.”
These gracious adults, these fellow participants of AK’s Boot Camp (and AK herself), have been nothing but a positive support for my son. In fact, one couple came to watch a Saturday soccer game to cheer Michael on even more. Go figure that Ms. Dayna is now working the front desk of the Homecourt Y. It’s that family DNA thing: the members are the blood of the Y, the staff is the heartbeat, the community is the oxygen. All components work together for the best of everyone.
Since school is back in session, Michael can only join our class on the holidays. People ask about him, and when he gets to come, his first comment is usually: “I bet they’ll be surprised to see me!” I think of his time at the Y as his battery recharger. He does fine in school, has his ups and downs as all kids do … gets by like other kids do, too …. But, come vacation time, he gets to go to this place where he stands out, where he counts, where people applaud his efforts and see his potential, and guide him to aim for more. He carries that inside of him, back to school where he can hold his head up a little higher. Where he knows he can face challenges and complete hard tasks. Where writing a paper might not be quite as daunting as before. After all, he doesn’t just sweat with adults, he keeps up with them. He competes with them. And, he’s friends with them.
One day, he will be an adult himself. He will be on his own, facing the world, and he will have these moments to hold him strong. He will have these memories of positive adult role models, and he will be able to give that gift of belief and support to others. He will be a link for that DNA chain to keep growing.
The beautiful thing is Michael is just one kid. One kid out of thousands of youthful Y members across the nation. If all children have such a positive outcome from their time at the Y, the future of the world will grow that much brighter. Not everyone succeeds in everything all the time, but everyone does have strength and potential. All they need is that support, that key. And the community of the Y is here, just for that reason.