More than a ‘gym and swim’ YMCA helps youth overcome barriers

by Sue Austreng
Staff Writer

ECM Publishers’ Community Affairs Council B (ABC Newspapers) in June 2011 awarded a $1,500 grant to the Emma B. Howe Family YMCA in Coon Rapids.

Posing with some of their smallest clients in the children’s play area, Emma B. Howe Family YMCA group vice president Chad Lanners, community program director Josh Peterson and youth development director Casey Schleisman display a banner created as an expression of gratitude to ECM Publishers’ Community Affairs Council B, which awarded a $1,500 grant to the YMCA in June 2011. Photo by Sue Austreng

Now, a $1,500 grant may seem like just a drop in the bucket when you consider the Olympic-sized pool of resources needed to fund the dozens of programs and services at the Y, but to hear Community Program Director Josh Peterson tell it, every little bit helps.

“That money has a huge impact,” Peterson said when asked to describe how that money will benefit Emma B. Howe’s programs and services.

Specifically, Youth Development Director Casey Schleisman said the grant money would be used to support the overall program of youth intervention services the Y offers.

She said those youth intervention programs help young people practice self-sufficiency and gain independence.

“We work with youth who are experiencing homelessness, they’re in the foster care system or in corrections,” Schleisman said. “We’re helping them build community and form good, healthy relationships.”

“That’s what Emma’s about: youth development, healthy living, social responsibility,” Peterson said. “We’re addressing barriers and helping youth develop tools to overcome those barriers.”

“You can go anywhere to break a sweat, but here you’re helping to transform lives.”

Last year, Emma B. Howe YMCA’s youth development programs served some 1,800 young people living in Anoka and Hennepin counties.

“We are so much more than a gym and swim,” said Schleisman.

“Our youth intervention services work to make sure every youth, every family and every community has what they need to achieve their very best. This grant will help us to do that.”

Emma B. Howe’s youth intervention program is funded by federal, state and county funding, as well as public and private grants and foundation money.

Membership fees, Schleisman said, pay capital costs, fund the facility and equipment and support administration.

Grants and donations help to fund youth intervention programs and services.

Those programs and se vices include the following:

• Addressing the needs of young adults and single parent families through independent, safe, affordable and sustainable housing.

• The annual North Suburban Youth Connection event, a collaboration with more than 35 community partners to provide resources to more than 160 youth who attended the event.

• The Remix Your Kicks project, promoting non-violence in young people’s communities.

• A collaboration with Teens Alone, Avenues and Oasis to create the suburban host home program, where homeless youth are connected to caring adults from their own suburban communities.

• Food shelves for homeless or “couch-hopping” youth.

• A partnership with youth support specialists and Centennial and Spring Lake Park school districts to increase awareness and help prevent youth homelessness.

• Establishing partnerships between youth exiting correctional placements and returning to the community with caring adult staff and volunteer mentors.

To learn more about Emma B. Howe Family YMCA’s youth intervention services call the resource line at 763-493-3052.

Charitable donations Peterson and Schleisman invite community members to “feel the gift of giving.”

Donations of various amounts provide a variety of support.

A charitable giving brochure distributed by the YMCA describes the impact monetary gifts can make:

• A gift of $750: Teens in crisis (including runaways) find a way back home and practical support through YMCA youth intervention services. A $750 gift helps provide training and support to YMCA counselors and mentors in this program.

• A gift of $500: A gift of this size would help five children attend a week of Y Day Camp, where they enjoy the outdoors, learn new skills and meet caring, adult role models.

• A gift of $250: Five senior adults who suffer from arthritis would be able to enjoy increased mobility by participating in specialized aquatics classes.

• A gift of $100: This could keep five children from economically-challenged families safe around water and give them a lifetime of swimming fun by providing a session of swim lessons.

• A gift of $50: This can help provide fun and bonding time for a family facing economic stress by providing food and supplies for a Y Family Night experience.

The YMCA’s annual Y Partners Campaign is currently under way and has an established fund-raising goal of $212,000.

According to Schleisman, they have raised $135,000 so far.

“We started in the fall and will continue the campaign until we reach our goal,” Schleisman said.

To learn more about Emma B. Howe Family YMCA (located at 8950 Springbrook Drive, Coon Rapids) contact Peterson ([email protected]; 612-782-7219) or Schleisman ([email protected]; 612-756-2277) or visit

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]