YMCA Promotes Literacy Along With Fitness

by Wendi Keene

While it is best known for its state-of-the-art fitness facilities, youth sports programs and summer camps, the YMCA is an organization uniquely designed to be able to meet the needs of the community and adapt as the community changes.

By focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, the Y strengthens the foundation of community.

When the YMCA of Central Kentucky was established in 1853, its focus was on serving young men coming to the city from rural areas to work in factories.

The Y provided reading rooms, lecture series and safe socials, and, in later years, night school with classes in mechanics and secretarial skills.

No soccer leagues. No aerobics. Yet, still the Y was affecting the community in a profound way.

That commitment to social responsibility is still very much a part of the Y today.
One of the shining examples of the Y’s responsiveness to community need is its dedication to the support and implementation of literacy and reading programs.

Today, one child in four grows up without knowing how to read.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.

Statistics also show that 85% of all juveniles in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

More than 60% percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Locally, the Y has helped in the fight against illiteracy by collaborating with numerous agencies and programs designed to promote reading.

The Y has been particularly effective within these programs as a distributor of free books to children in need.

In 2010 alone, the Y distributed 6,339 books, bringing the total number of books over the last nine years to 59,894.

Among the pro-grams the Y has led or supported are:

The Reader’s Theater held at the Learning Center.
Twenty-five students in grades 6-8 in this alternative school in Fayette County read a book in assigned groups.

After completing the book they wrote a one act play based on the book.

Then they went to the Northside Branch Public Library to learn about their digital lab and filmed each other reading their plays.

Sponsors: Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

William Wells Brown Elementary in Lexington.
The Y has a standing program to tell a story, conduct an activity and pass out books.

Themes range from space exploration to animals.

Sponsors: Lexington Public Library’s Spell-binders program.

Read Write Now.

Held in the Jessamine County YMCA after-school programs, this project groups

Asbury educational students with elementary school students in reading and writing activities.

Sponsors: Jessamine County Library and Asbury University.

Writer’s Voice.
Author Frank X Walker conducted a special writing session as part of the Y Arts and Culture day.

Walker is the author of several books and an instructor in the English department at the University of Kentucky.

Youth participated in a workshop that introduced creative writing as well as writing poems in persona style.

The day also included workshops by local artists in theater, African drums and Caribbean dance.

It Starts with a Story.
The program was initiated at the Fayette County Detention Center to work with the families of incarcerated loved ones.

As families wait for their visitation session, children can select a book of their own to keep. Then they get to read with their family.

Story Telling Festival.
The Y collaborated with the Lexington Public Library, Spellbinders and Lansdowne Elementary to provide storytellers, food and a free book.

In other efforts:
Y staff was asked to be a guest lecturer at Asbury University education class on the subject of reading and writing activities to use with elementary students.

The YMCA Child Development Center and Lexington Public Library have teamed up to provide parents with literacy training to help prepare their children for kindergarten.
The children participated in fun activities, and every family received a free literacy bag to take home.

The Y conducted a story time and craft for 28 adults with special needs at the Lord’s

Legacy day training center.

Through programs such as these, the Y is improving the lives of children and families throughout our community every day.

To learn more about the Y’s literacy programs and how to get involved as a donor or volunteer, contact Wendi Keene at 367-7326 or wkeene@ymcaofcentralky.org.

Wendi Keene is the YMCA’s Executive Director of Community Services and has worked for the YMCA of Central Kentucky for 28 years. She works with the community to provide outreach programs, including literacy.