Charro grant works to ensure no child is turned away from YMCA preschool

These families need opportunities for their children to attend quality early learning programs so that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed
– Damian Vega, Scottsdale YMCA executive director

Since 1987 here in Scottsdale, the local YMCA has been fostering an effort to create a caring environment for all based on the principles of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.

The Christian-based, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, has been operating in Arizona since 1892 meanwhile today the YMCA brick-and-mortar footprint consists of 20 branches and one resident camp --- Camp Sky-Y in Prescott, which is an independent entity, officials say.

In “The West’s Most Western Town” the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley Family YMCA is a part of the Valley of the Sun YMCA and has been operating in Scottsdale for more than 30 years, according to its Executive Director Damian Vega.

“The branch offers multi-generational programming for children and adults with the goal of helping to create a well-adjusted adult who will then contribute back to our community,” he said of the organization’s overall mission.

“All of our programming is centered on the core values of the YMCA --- caring, honesty, respect and responsibility --- and learning teamwork, sportsmanship and gaining confidence are the most important elements of our programming.”

The Scottsdale/Paradise Valley Family YMCA branch is at 6869 E. Shea Blvd.

Mr. Vega outlines the local YMCA branches are full-service facilities complete with a fitness center, full-court basketball gym, pool, racquetball courts, and an “Amazing Kids Center.”

But the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA branches are eying expansion of its YMCA Preschool program serving low-income children within the bounds of the City of Scottsdale.

“The YMCA is uniquely positioned to provide the support and environment families need to create strong, stable relationships,” Mr. Vega explains of the YMCA Preschool pursuit.

“Each child’s success is dependent on these healthy attachments with caregivers and preschool based on each child’s development needs. At the YMCA, families are able to receive top-of-the-line care for their children and unique opportunities to strengthen relationships with the family unit as a whole, regardless of what that unit looks like for each family.”

But not every family can afford the YMCA Preschool program, and, turns out, 10 of the 30 Scottsdale Unified School District schools throughout the community qualify as Title 1 schools.

“There are schools in communities served by the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley YMCA with as many as 84% of the students participating in the free and reduced lunch program,” Mr. Vega said, citing statistics provided by the Arizona Department of Education.

According to First Things First, nearly 17% of young children live in poverty in the greater Scottsdale area.

About 9 percent, or just over 21,000 residents, live below the poverty line in Scottsdale. Poverty is defined as a gross annual income less than $21,954 for a family of four, according to the latest Census figures.

As of 2015, the population of Scottsdale was estimated at 234,495 --- an increase of 7,577 since 2010, Census figures show. In 2010, roughly 8 percent of Scottsdale -- or 18,759 people -- lived below the federal poverty line.

“These families need opportunities for their children to attend quality early learning programs so that children enter kindergarten ready to succeed,” Mr. Vega points out. “Our high demand for financial assistance at our Scottsdale/Paradise Valley Family YMCA Early Learning Center further substantiates this need.”

The Scottsdale Charros believe in the mission behind the YMCA Preschool program at the YMCA and this current grant cycle, The Charro Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to help expand the program’s reach into low-income neighborhoods.

“The Charro Foundation dollars will greatly aid our preschoolers,” Mr. Vega said.

“During these formative years, not only are the participants learning how to socialize with others, they are also focused on basic motor skills as we help prepare them for kindergarten. Of our 28 participants, 16 are on financial assistance, and in 2019 we are anticipating giving out nearly $22,000 in financial assistance to our preschool.”

For nearly 60 years, the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents and all children while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.

No child in need ought to be turned away, Mr. Vega contends, and with Charro grant dollars that belief can come to fruition.

“The Charro Foundation dollars will ensure that we do not have to turn anyone away for the inability to pay,” he said. “It will also help our preschoolers thrive in a caring and nurturing environment.”

Mr. Vega explains places like the local YMCA are meant for all.

“A place where people from different economic, religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds can gather without incident. A place of respect for your neighbor,” he pointed out of the environment.

“Walking through any YMCA you will see diversity, a difference in economic means and political views. Being accepting of each other is a key part of what we teach at the YMCA and one of the few ways to move our country forward. At our most basic level, we are attempting to teach the next generation how to treat each other. We do that through different programs, but the value-based message is the same regardless of the program.”

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