For A Better Us

August 23, 2016

Lets Move! Outside Engages Youth in Over 50 Cities!

By David Jayo, Senior Adviser to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell 

In 51 cities across the country from Anchorage to San Juan, young people are charting their own paths in America’s great outdoors. They are cleaning beaches in San Diego, planting gardens in Houston, paddling rivers in Minneapolis and dissecting invasive lionfish in Miami.

Through the Department of the Interior’s Partnership with the YMCA of the USA, American Express, local governments and hundreds of nonprofit organizations, Let’s Move! Outside is getting millions of kids to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. Through hard work, strong partners, leadership and vision, we have not only met our ambitious goals – we have exceeded many of them.

To Read More, Click Here.

By David Jayo, Senior Adviser to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell  In 51 cities across the country from Anchorage to San Juan, young people are charting their own paths in America’s great outdoors. They are cleaning beaches in San Diego, planting gardens in Houston, paddling rivers in Minneapolis and dissecting invasive lionfish in Miami. Through the Department of the Interior’s Partnership with the YMCA of the USA, American Express, local governments and hundreds of nonprofit organizations, Let’s Move! Outside is getting millions of kids to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. Through hard work, strong partners, leadership and vision, we have not only met our ambitious goals – we have exceeded many of them. To Read More, Click Here.


August 22, 2016

Thingamajig 2016

Cheers rang out in the halls of Edward Waters College, as 700 YMCA campers from across the First Coast sat awaiting the start of Thingamajig. First Coast YMCA puts on the Thingamijig convention in hopes of educating youth aged 7-15 about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) through a hands on approach.

This year’s second annual Thingamajig was sponsored by Vystar and featured activity booths from Florida Public Archaeology Network, JEA, Mathnasium, Johnson Teens, VyStar, Claim It App, Baptist Health, Safe Kids Coalition, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Chick fil A of Mandarin, Firehouse Subs, Sratchwerks, Enviroscapes by AmeriCorp, SeeDifferently, Edward Waters College, Florida IT Network, and UNF School of Computing, Engineering, and Robotics.

Thingamajig 2016.mp4.00_01_14_19.Still002

Children spent the day in 16 hands on workshops, and they participated in challenges that allowed them to build marble roller coasters, create their own inventions and even launch off their own bottle rockets.

Although a great opportunity for summer fun, these activities also help to open the doors to strategic thinking, creative expression and great careers. At the Y, young people have numerous opportunities to learn, play and be inspired through STEM. Thingamajig is just one example of how we’re opening children’s eyes to the wonders of science, and how we’ve worked to make a difference in the lives of the children of our community this summer.

To view more photos of Thingamajig fun, click here.

Cheers rang out in the halls of Edward Waters College, as 700 YMCA campers from across the First Coast sat awaiting the start of Thingamajig. First Coast YMCA puts on the Thingamijig convention in hopes of educating youth aged 7-15 about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) through a hands on approach. This year’s second annual Thingamajig was sponsored by Vystar and featured activity booths from Florida Public Archaeology Network, JEA, Mathnasium, Johnson Teens, VyStar, Claim It App, Baptist Health, Safe Kids Coalition, Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Chick fil A of Mandarin, Firehouse Subs, Sratchwerks, Enviroscapes by AmeriCorp, SeeDifferently, Edward Waters College, Florida IT Network, and UNF School of Computing, Engineering, and Robotics. Children spent the day in 16 hands on workshops, and they participated in challenges that allowed them to build marble roller coasters, create their own inventions and even launch off their own bottle rockets. Although a great opportunity for summer fun, these activities…


August 19, 2016

Summer Fun at Camp Immokalee

by Lauren Crawford

Summer camp is often thought of as a place of fun- where lifelong friendships are made and kids have a chance to learn new things. That’s exactly what I found when visiting Camp Immokalee this summer. Immediately I was greeted with a sense of community, and I could tell that the kids shared a special bond with one another as they worked together with teammates in their daily activities.

Camp Immokalee is a First Coast YMCA resident camp where kids can participate in physical, social and educational activities such as fishing, canoeing, talent shows, archery, arts and crafts, and other teambuilding activities designed for personal enrichment.

 

Camp Immokalee Lifeguards

Camp Immokalee Lifeguards

YMCA of Florida’s First Coast also partners with the Bridge of Northeast Florida in order to provide Camp Immokalee stays for Bridge program participants. The partnership is annually funded by the Deerwood Rotary Club and makes it possible for kids of diverse backgrounds to have opportunities that they might not otherwise have access to.

 

Camp Immokalee is one of the ways that the Y hopes to impact kids of our community, teaching them self-reliance, a love for nature and the outdoors, and the development of attitudes and practices that build character and leadership, and meaningful relationships.

 

For more information about camp Immokalee or other camp programs, click here.

 

by Lauren Crawford Summer camp is often thought of as a place of fun- where lifelong friendships are made and kids have a chance to learn new things. That’s exactly what I found when visiting Camp Immokalee this summer. Immediately I was greeted with a sense of community, and I could tell that the kids shared a special bond with one another as they worked together with teammates in their daily activities. Camp Immokalee is a First Coast YMCA resident camp where kids can participate in physical, social and educational activities such as fishing, canoeing, talent shows, archery, arts and crafts, and other teambuilding activities designed for personal enrichment.   YMCA of Florida’s First Coast also partners with the Bridge of Northeast Florida in order to provide Camp Immokalee stays for Bridge program participants. The partnership is annually funded by the Deerwood Rotary Club and makes it possible for kids of diverse backgrounds to have…


July 21, 2016

Camp Immokalee Alumnus Helps in Haiti

Submitted by Jim Austin / Camp Immokalee Alumni Association

This is a story about how the YMCA and Camp Immokalee can make a difference in the world and save lives. It does this with our young people. Through the impact of resident camping the “Y” can influence youths to embrace values our world societies desperately need. I have benefited from what the camping experience has done for me.  Over a good portion of my lifetime I have seen what Camp Immokalee has done for others and how it added success to their lives. This is a story about one of those kids, Tom Parsons, now a grown man. I last saw Tom at the Camp Immokalee 100-year Anniversary and Reunion. Also attending the anniversary celebration with us was Tom’s other mentor and long-time Immokalean, Charlie Pitchford.

Tom Parsons has just arrived back to his temporary home in the Dominican Republic from leading a relief and rescue mission into Haiti. The devastation in Haiti from the 7.1 and subsequent earthquakes is well known via the media. The media struggles to report the real effects on Haiti’s population due to the limitations of sound and video bytes. Tom led a team of approximately 30 volunteers composed of doctors, nurses, paramedics, EMTs and support personnel. However, the story doesn’t begin here; it begins in the 1970s.

Tom Parsons came to Camp Immokalee as a youth in 1973. He wanted to learn to sail boats and selected sailing as his primary hobby. I was the sailing instructor and noticed an impressionable and enthusiastic boy. The first week of camp that year we were under the wrath of a hurricane. We spent all week doing ground training not being able to sail on the lake. On the last day we hadn’t sailed but conditions were improving slightly. I learned he was a good swimmer and asked him if he was brave enough to try some heavy weather sailing. He eagerly replied, “Yes” and I chose a small sturdy Optimist Pram for its small sail area. We filled the boat with safety gear and donned our life jackets. The lake was like being on the sea and very rough. I was impressed with Tom’s even mental state in the rough going. Soon I found out someone had substituted a cheaper wooden beam for a true quality mast section.  We were dismasted and in an emergency situation with the boat filling with wave water. Tom was cool headed and bailed while I managed the boat. We finally made it back to shore at camp and Tom noticed I had stayed upwind of camp in case of emergency. You don’t really know how someone, even a kid, is going to handle adversity. That was Tom’s first test and I knew he was leader material.

Tom kept coming to camp year after year. He became a staff member and the sailing instructor. He was one of the best counselors and honed his leadership skills. As Tom moved on in life he married Naomi Noyes, and joined The Air National Guard as aircrew on USAF C-130s. He has two older children, Chris and Nichole. He is a professional firefighter trained in many specialties such as aircraft fires and HAZMAT. Tom went to Saudi Arabia to work as a civilian contract firefighter. Then he went to Iraq and worked in the “Green Zone” for a year. It was during his time in Iraq that Tom flew all the way back to Keystone Heights just to be with his fellow Immokaleans for the 100-year Anniversary Celebration. He wanted to see his friends and meet the new people there. Tom has never known a stranger.

If you look back on Tom’s work at Immokalee and how he leads one can see he has the heart of a missionary. He cares very much about people, their well-being and respects all life as a Christian. These were values we taught at Camp Immokalee as promoted by the Y under the leadership of Charlie Pitchford and later me as Immokalee Assistant Directors.

As soon as I heard about the earthquake in Haiti and knowing Tom was on the same island I knew he was going to help and nothing was going to change that. It didn’t take long before I saw his pleas on Facebook for a large cargo aircraft to ferry supplies down from the US. I spoke to Tom’s concerned family and decided to write him with the best advice I could give. Haiti has special dangers and concerns due to its extreme poverty and massive population. People will do about anything when starving. Tom took all the necessary precautions and organized a military type convoy with a pathfinder team and military escort. The Dominican Republic government was so impressed with his preparations he was given credentials that gave him government authority as their representative.

Tom called me personally after his 8-day ordeal and I could hear in his voice he was fatigued. Despite his exhaustion he wasn’t resting but trying to gather information to start a non-profit organization to get shelter to the masses of people at risk from exposure. In the hour-long conversation he told me they treated hundreds of people every day for injuries in the earthquake. For most Haitians it was their first treatment for injuries that were of an extreme nature – lacerations, amputations, etc. They fed thousands of hungry people, many of them starving to death. He knows they saved hundreds from dying but one story stood out. On a forced break from work Tom climbed up the mountainside to survey a poverty stricken shantytown settlement he heard about. When he found the settlement it was rubble. He walked around and found a young woman in her early 20s laying in the mud with her little brother standing over her. Tom assessed she had a broken back in the L5 vertebrae area and was paralyzed from the waist down. Being paralyzed meant she could not control her bowels and was in danger of dying from septicemia – it had been 8 days since her injury. The little boy spoke English and Tom told him that he would be back no matter how long it took. Remember, she was hours up the side of a mountain and Tom needed a backboard and a team to get her down safely.

When Tom got back to base camp he had to reenter his responsible role and was kept busy while he located a backboard. It took him three days but he found one and went back up the mountain with his team on the fourth day. When he got there he couldn’t find the injured woman in the place he had left her. Tom did not give up and two hours later found her on a door in the mud near a clearing. Her little brother came out from under some makeshift shelter shouting, “I knew you come back, you promised!” It took four grueling hours to get her down the mountain and to the medical facility. Then the worst surprise happened.

Tom and his team brought the young woman into the treatment tent and explained her injuries to the doctor. The doctor told him that they could not take her – she had a spinal injury. As Tom was narrating this part to me, the horror of that relived moment brought him to tears. What Tom had been up against was medical triage. There were too many severe injuries and she was being judged to die and save the resources for those who have a chance at recovery with more quality of life. Tom simply could not take “No” for an answer and explained to the doctor in a “clear” voice what effort has been done to save this young woman and what she had been through. He instructed his team to place her in the treatment area off in the corner and commanded the doctor to fulfill his duties. An emergency colostomy was suggested. Tom rarely gets forceful or adamant with people but when he does they are looking up at someone about 6’5”.

That is where this particular part of the story ends. She had zero chance up on the mountain under the care of an adolescent brother. She had zero chance entering the medical tent on her own. With Tom Parsons helping her she had some sort of hope for life.

At this time Tom doesn’t know whether she lived or has died. She is one of millions suffering; one of thousands that his team helped to live another day. As he pressed on with his stories I could hear Tom’s fatigue and I suggested we continue later after he rested. He wasn’t going to rest, he was going to try and find a way to bring in shelter for the masses. “If it rains, millions will die,” he said. And, he wasn’t even thinking of cholera at this point – a common dark companion to disaster and poverty.

And so, the story will continue, as does life itself. It is but one example about compassion and making a difference. You never know what that young kid will grow up to become. Opportunity and effort makes a difference. As long as there is need in the world and people like Tom Parsons are growing up and learning in places like Camp Immokalee the world can be a better place.  Tom’s son, Chris, accompanied him on this quest – the “light” will spread to others. People from Camp Immokalee’s first 85 years know what this “light” means from our Candlelight Service. I couldn’t be prouder as someone, one of many that helped Tom along the way. Rarely do I see such pure dedication and effort from people benefiting others. Thus, the lessons learned are not just about compassion, but also about how to act responsibly and as a better human being.

Jim Austin
Camp Immokalee
1964-1979
1985-1990
Camp Immokalee Alumni Association, Past Chairman

Submitted by Jim Austin / Camp Immokalee Alumni Association This is a story about how the YMCA and Camp Immokalee can make a difference in the world and save lives. It does this with our young people. Through the impact of resident camping the “Y” can influence youths to embrace values our world societies desperately need. I have benefited from what the camping experience has done for me.  Over a good portion of my lifetime I have seen what Camp Immokalee has done for others and how it added success to their lives. This is a story about one of those kids, Tom Parsons, now a grown man. I last saw Tom at the Camp Immokalee 100-year Anniversary and Reunion. Also attending the anniversary celebration with us was Tom’s other mentor and long-time Immokalean, Charlie Pitchford. Tom Parsons has just arrived back to his temporary home in the Dominican Republic from leading a relief and rescue…


July 7, 2016

Florida Times-Union: New Winston YMCA Sneak Peek

After years of planning and construction, the new Winston Family YMCA is near completion and should open as expected Aug. 26. Construction is on schedule and the facility is about 85 percent finished.

Crews are working 13-hour days, seven days a week, according to Haskell project manager Alfonso Cawthorn…
READ MORE

After years of planning and construction, the new Winston Family YMCA is near completion and should open as expected Aug. 26. Construction is on schedule and the facility is about 85 percent finished. Crews are working 13-hour days, seven days a week, according to Haskell project manager Alfonso Cawthorn… READ MORE


June 27, 2016

Summer Celebrations: Try This Instead

Planning to host a kid-friendly July 4th bash or summer party? Try these quick fixes for turning high-sugar, low-activity rituals into fresh ideas and healthy fun!

1. Serve a Watermelon Cake
Kids are sweet enough without added sugar. Redefine dessert by showing off fruits and veggies in a fun way! Slice up a thirst-quenching, naturally-sweet melon and invite campers to dig in. Watch these instructions to get started.

2. Jump in!
Kids who burn more, learn more. Rather than celebrating with a movie (passive connection), choose a pool party (active connection) for kids to interact and be stimulated. They will also sleep better after physical activity.

3. Invite the Family
Provide opportunities for families to bond and strengthen their social-emotional and cognitive development. This may work best at the end of the camp day or during pick up. Involving camp staff in play is also a good way to stimulate interpersonal skills and connection.

Summer Celebrations

Planning to host a kid-friendly July 4th bash or summer party? Try these quick fixes for turning high-sugar, low-activity rituals into fresh ideas and healthy fun! 1. Serve a Watermelon Cake Kids are sweet enough without added sugar. Redefine dessert by showing off fruits and veggies in a fun way! Slice up a thirst-quenching, naturally-sweet melon and invite campers to dig in. Watch these instructions to get started. 2. Jump in! Kids who burn more, learn more. Rather than celebrating with a movie (passive connection), choose a pool party (active connection) for kids to interact and be stimulated. They will also sleep better after physical activity. 3. Invite the Family Provide opportunities for families to bond and strengthen their social-emotional and cognitive development. This may work best at the end of the camp day or during pick up. Involving camp staff in play is also a good way to stimulate interpersonal skills and connection.


June 24, 2016

It’s Time to SEEDifferently

Blazing summer heat didn’t deter 10-year-old Destiny Gonzales. A participant in the summer program at Dupont YMCA, she wanted to make sure the thirsty seedlings she had helped to plant would thrive. As a part of the SEEDifferently program initiative started at the First Coast YMCA with Atlantic Urban Beach Farms, summer program participants like Destiny have learned the value and importance of gardening through use of hydroponic growth towers.

The ultimate goal of SEEDifferently is to increase interest in the gardening process amongst children and families while teaching about nutrition, sustainability, diversity, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Destiny became interested in urban gardening after seeing the towers one day while at the Y. “I remember watching [it], and me and my friend went up and asked if we could help”, said Gonzales.

“I just remember looking at it and being intimidated- it was this beautiful structure and I didn’t have any gardening experience”, said Katherine Cox as she recalls her first time seeing a growth tower.

An AmeriCorps worker, Cox explained that the science behind the unusual-looking towers is what makes the process revolutionary. “The 6 feet tall cylinder structures recycle water, take up little space, and are relatively easy to maintain. After seedlings are planted, produce forms within 3-4 weeks, making it much more efficient than traditional soil-based gardening methods”, she explained.

Cox has seen SEEDifferently bloom into a program that has really positively impacted families in our local Duval community who do not have easily obtainable and affordable nutritious foods available.

“I realized that food deserts and food security was a really big problem”, said Cox. In order to help, she decided to create a harvest lottery for families- drawing names and donating fresh produce that was grown on site. Soon other YMCA staff and schools in the community (including Tiger Academy Charter School) began learning about the initiative and have also implemented Seedifferently and harvest lottery programs.

To learn more, click here.

Blazing summer heat didn’t deter 10-year-old Destiny Gonzales. A participant in the summer program at Dupont YMCA, she wanted to make sure the thirsty seedlings she had helped to plant would thrive. As a part of the SEEDifferently program initiative started at the First Coast YMCA with Atlantic Urban Beach Farms, summer program participants like Destiny have learned the value and importance of gardening through use of hydroponic growth towers. The ultimate goal of SEEDifferently is to increase interest in the gardening process amongst children and families while teaching about nutrition, sustainability, diversity, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Destiny became interested in urban gardening after seeing the towers one day while at the Y. “I remember watching [it], and me and my friend went up and asked if we could help”, said Gonzales. “I just remember looking at it and being intimidated- it was this beautiful structure and I didn’t have any gardening…


June 20, 2016

4 Ways to Save Kids’ Lives This Summer

With increased access to beaches, lakes and pools, summer fun can quickly turn to danger for kids across the country. Swim lessons are an important youth development opportunity that ensure young children have self-rescuing skills, but adult supervision is always necessary when it comes to water safety.

Safety Around Water graphic

Four tips that will save kids’ lives this summer:

1. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water

2. Never leave a child unattended in a bath tub

3. Empty kiddie pools immediately after use

4. When visiting a new home, check the premises for potential water hazards

Looking for more tips and support?

The YMCA is committed to nurturing kids’ full potential by keeping them safe during summer camp and every day year-round. Click here to learn more about our Safety Around Water swim programs.

With increased access to beaches, lakes and pools, summer fun can quickly turn to danger for kids across the country. Swim lessons are an important youth development opportunity that ensure young children have self-rescuing skills, but adult supervision is always necessary when it comes to water safety. Four tips that will save kids’ lives this summer: 1. Teach children to always ask permission to go near water 2. Never leave a child unattended in a bath tub 3. Empty kiddie pools immediately after use 4. When visiting a new home, check the premises for potential water hazards Looking for more tips and support? The YMCA is committed to nurturing kids’ full potential by keeping them safe during summer camp and every day year-round. Click here to learn more about our Safety Around Water swim programs.


June 15, 2016

More than Just an Excuse to Buy a Tie

Inspired by a Mother’s Day sermon over 100 years ago, Sonora Louis Smart Dodd wondered why there was no similar holiday for fathers. One of six children, Dodd’s father was a single dad and she felt he and others deserved to be honored. After securing support from ministers in Spokane, Wash., her idea came to fruition with the first Father’s Day celebration at the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Many years passed before the day became a national holiday, but today we use the day to honor the fathers and father figures in our lives.

On Sunday, June 19, the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast joins the nation in celebrating Father’s Day and recognizing the influence fathers and adult male role models have in children’s lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million—or one in three—children live without their biological fathers. Societal factors such as unemployment, work-life balance or a lack of resources can affect a father’s ability to seek support in strengthening his parenting skills and becoming more engaged in the lives of his children.

Studies show that children with close relationships with their fathers and other adult male role models have more self-confidence and exhibit less depression, perform better academically and engage in significantly less drug and alcohol use. The Y, a leading nonprofit in fostering positive youth development, is dedicated to providing both resources and opportunities for fathers to further involve themselves in the well-being and development of their children.

The First Coast YMCA offers a variety of programs that foster understanding and companionship between children and their caregivers. In communities across the country, the Y is committed to ensuring that the 9 million children and teens in YMCA programs reach their full potential by helping them grow—physically, mentally and socially—from young children into active, engaged members of their communities.

Inspired by a Mother’s Day sermon over 100 years ago, Sonora Louis Smart Dodd wondered why there was no similar holiday for fathers. One of six children, Dodd’s father was a single dad and she felt he and others deserved to be honored. After securing support from ministers in Spokane, Wash., her idea came to fruition with the first Father’s Day celebration at the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Many years passed before the day became a national holiday, but today we use the day to honor the fathers and father figures in our lives. On Sunday, June 19, the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast joins the nation in celebrating Father’s Day and recognizing the influence fathers and adult male role models have in children’s lives. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million—or one in three—children live without their biological fathers. Societal factors such as unemployment, work-life balance or a lack of resources…


June 13, 2016

Help Your Community’s Health in Just 3 Minutes

The Duval County Department of Health is crafting a plan for health improvement in our area. The YMCA of Florida’s First Coast supports the mission of the initiative, which is to promote, protect, and improve the health of Florida residents through involvement of community partners.

The plan for improvement will target 4 strategic areas, which include access to care, behavioral health sciences, chronic care management, and community engagement and partnerships.

We realize that health care providers and public health officials are not the only parties accountable for impacting and improving our health- we as the community also share responsibility to become informed and empowered about our well-being.

The process for improvement starts with you! If you are a Duval resident, please click here and take three minutes to complete the linked survey.

By sharing previous experiences, and current expectations, your survey responses can help Duval County to shape healthcare in our community for the better.

To learn more about the Duval County Community Healthcare Planning and initiatives, click here.

The Duval County Department of Health is crafting a plan for health improvement in our area. The YMCA of Florida’s First Coast supports the mission of the initiative, which is to promote, protect, and improve the health of Florida residents through involvement of community partners. The plan for improvement will target 4 strategic areas, which include access to care, behavioral health sciences, chronic care management, and community engagement and partnerships. We realize that health care providers and public health officials are not the only parties accountable for impacting and improving our health- we as the community also share responsibility to become informed and empowered about our well-being. The process for improvement starts with you! If you are a Duval resident, please click here and take three minutes to complete the linked survey. By sharing previous experiences, and current expectations, your survey responses can help Duval County to shape healthcare in our community for the better….


Mission Statement: To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.