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Detroit Youth Learn Life Skills at the YMCA

Initiative exposes high school students to healthy living and cultural experiences.

Imagine 200 high school kids from Detroit saddling up and feeling the thrill of horseback riding for the very first time.

It’s not what you might picture when you think of a college and career preparation program targeting inner-city youth. But that might be exactly why the teens involved love it so much.

“The kids want to come back,” Terri Mial, vice president of Youth Development and Community Initiatives at the YMCA of Metro Detroit, says of the iCan Achieve program at the Boll Family YMCA in Detroit. “We’re not doing traditional college prep.”

Part of the national YMCA Black Achievers initiative, iCan Achieve is open to students in grades nine through 12 and focuses on several key areas including iPlay, iLive, iLearn and iWork/iServe – all aspects that “allow them to really get to know themselves better,” she says. Other activities have included a cider mill visit, trout fishing, bowling and cherry picking.

“We want to make sure that they’re doing things that are healthy but also fun,” Mial says. “Things that inner-city kids don’t usually get the opportunity to get exposed to.”

Fun field trips and cultural experiences are paired with teen workshops on skills like decision-making about drugs or dating, money management and resume writing. There’s even a book club for teens to participate in with their parents.

“What the initiative serves to do is expose students of color to post-secondary opportunities,” she explains. “I think a large part of the program is teaching kids to be good decision-makers – and also to set goals for themselves. Our job is to help them be successful at achieving those goals.”

The program, now in its 37th year, serves around 200 students each year; sessions run October through May and meet once per month. In addition to Saturday outings, workshops, tutoring and college tours, students take part in ACT and SAT preparation.

“We also have a component called Senioritis where we work very specifically with the seniors,” including a career counselor who works individually with students, Mial says. “Her job is to make sure every kid who wants to go to college has applied for financial aid and has a plan to go to college. She’s really been a blessing with the kids.”

Youth participants are also exposed to vocational opportunities outside of going to college, including entrepreneurial options, culinary arts, police or fire services and armed services. After graduating, an Achievers 2.0 program is offered that invites students back for certain services and work opportunities.

Students also get the chance to give back to the community by serving others, including making survivor bracelets for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and working with middle schoolers to prepare them for high school.

The iPlay “field trip” component of iCan Achieve, considered a key aspect to the program’s success, is all about “keeping kids active in their community as well as staying fit,” Mial says. The sessions are made possible with the support of sponsors like UnitedHealthcare.

“Partnerships are really what makes this program successful,” she says. “We are super excited to partner with UnitedHealthcare for them to help us with our mission of keeping our families fit. Our missions are very much the same in making sure our communities are healthy and whole and kids and families get exposure (to healthy living).”

One of the most important goals of iCan Achieve, Mial says, is showing teens the importance of planning ahead.

“Just making sure that they’re thinking and making sure that they really, really understand how important it is to have a plan,” she says. “We’ve grown the program over the eight-and-a-half years that I’ve been here, and what we’ve really done is listen to the kids in making sure that they have absolutely everything they need to be successful.”

For more information on ican achieve at the boll family ymca, call 313-223-2841 or email myy@ymcadetroit.org.

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