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Community rallies to support middle school after-school program at YMCA

Community rallies to support middle school after-school program at YMCA

Community members have come out of the woodwork to support the new EWOW Middle School After School Program.

More than 80 El Dorado middle school students are signed up for the YMCA after school program, which opened its doors Feb. 28.

“We are hitting the kids who don’t have the opportunity to participate in structured activity after school,” said John Grundy, El Dorado YMCA’s senior program director. “They now have a structured physical activity or wellness activity after school.”

Students are bussed from school to the YMCA after school each Tuesday and Thursday. The program has a variety of components, including physical activity, nutrition education, volunteer opportunities and even STEM learning opportunities provided by Exploration Place’s traveling exhibits.

“Our board had seen that this was a need we didn’t meet in our programs,” Grundy said.

At the exact time the board asked for a middle school after school program, the YMCA received some unexpected help. EWOW, or El Dorado Working on Wellness, is an initiative started by the Connell family in conjunction with the YMCA and Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital. The Connells started the wellness push in honor of MaryKay Connell, the family matriarch who still exercises regularly at the YMCA.

First, EWOW partnered with the hospital and the YMCA branch to work with USD 490 teachers. A group of teachers receives blood testing and DARI testing — a predictive motion analytics system that can identify and predict injuries — at the hospital. Then they engage in personal training sessions two times a week for four months. The idea is if teachers are excited about health, then they can bring wellness education and physical activity into their classrooms.

Now, EWOW is helping to sponsor the after school program in conjunction with the YMCA, Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital and the hospital foundation. El Dorado YMCA Director Jessica Rall said a group of representatives from the involved parties started meeting in January.

“We started having discussions weekly about what this could look like,” she said.

The program came together in a matter of weeks. The YMCA appointed El Dorado Middle School P.E. teacher Lindsay Cooper to head up the effort.

The ways community members are participating in the program are plentiful.

Susan B. Allen nutritionists provide nutrition education for the students, with cooking demonstrations held at Charley’s Appliance & Mattress Gallery. The program has a partnership with Grizzly Bowl, so the students are able to bowl there.

Students have the option to train for and run a 5K with the program, and Oz Events is granting the students a race discount. Individual volunteers are running with the students who opted in to race, and one even orchestrated the donation of dozens of pairs of running shoes for the students.

And surely additional community members will step up as awareness about the program increases.

“The people who are running this program are so invested in the success of the kid … They go above and beyond,” Grundy said. “I think we definitely have the right people involved.”

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