Child cutting paper
May 12, 2022

Investing in Tomorrow’s Movers, Makers, and Leaders

Raising strong, resilient kids takes a village.

At the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, we’re proud to serve as an extension of that village for Chicagoland’s families—and one of the key ways we live out that purpose is through our Out of School Time (OST) program.

With program sites at local Y centers and schools, we provide reliable, enriching before- and after-school programming to school-aged youth throughout Chicagoland. By thoughtfully merging play and structured learning, our OST programs build upon what students experience in the classroom while creating a warm, inclusive environment that doesn’t quite feel like school.

In December, youth enrolled in after-school care at the Kelly Hall YMCA, McCormick YMCA, Rauner Family YMCA, and South Side YMCA had the opportunity to exercise their imaginations, collaborate with one another, and practice their problem-solving skills through the Y’s new 3D Printing and Design Program, which was funded by the CME Group Foundation.

“Whatever you want to design, you can design it your own way,” said Brianna, a participant at Kelly Hall YMCA, proudly holding up two of her creations—a bag tag and a guitar pick with her zodiac sign.

Throughout the course of the six-week program, students like Brianna took on increasingly complex design challenges, culminating in a lesson titled “Invent for Tomorrow.” For this culminating project, youth identified areas of improvement in their communities, designed products to address those issues, and fabricated prototypes for these useful objects with their 3D printing knowledge.

On top of promoting academic readiness, the Y’s before- and after-school curriculum prioritizes social-emotional and cross-cultural learning.

With the pandemic’s mental health impacts in mind, our OST programs have helped youth readjust to daily interaction with both peers and adults. Monthly curricular themes like Self-Esteem, Connection & Belonging, Emotional Management, and Honesty & Integrity give participants age-appropriate vehicles to engage in honest dialogue about mental wellbeing, healthy relationships-building, and bullying prevention.

Belonging lies at the core of the Y’s before- and after-school programs, and we’re proud to promote diversity and inclusion through activities celebrating the myriad cultures that enrich our Y family.

In February, South Side YMCA youth celebrated Black History Month by portraying Black luminaries in the center’s halls and sharing facts about their chosen historical figures to members and staff. During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, students at YMCA Safe ‘n Sound created artwork inspired by Japanese multimedia artist Yayoi Kusama. Throughout September and October, several of our Association’s OST sites observed Hispanic Heritage Month by learning about the cultural contributions of the Hispanic and Latine diasporas through crafts and historical teachings.

“It was great for our children that the Y’s after-school program celebrated their heritage,” a parent from Alex Haley Academy’s OST program said. “Often, our culture is overlooked, and for the Y to take the time to teach the students about theirs was truly appreciated.”