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Provide a safe environment and stimulating mental as well as physical activities for young students. That’s the pledge from the Greater Marco Family YMCA, which is gearing up for its afterschool as well as early learning programs as the new school year beckons.

The Y afterschool programs, according to School Age Manager Charlene Garcia, are a big boon for working parents.

And, they’re always being refined.

“They (the students) receive daily homework assistance – which is part of our academic support component,” said Garcia. “We also concentrate on character building, core values, daily sports and physical activities, and also daily enrichment.”

And, in recent years, the Y has spread its wings to embrace three other sites in the area: Manatee Elementary School, Parkside Elementary School and more recently Everglades City School.

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These three additional sites benefit from generous subsidies to ease the cost burden for many working parents, and hot meals in the afternoon for all children are part of yet another Y goal. At present, Manatee and Parkside elementary after-schoolers receive these meals, and sponsors are being sought to include Marco as well as Everglades City.

“They eat anytime between 3:30 and 4 p.m., and we want all children to go home with hot meals in their bellies,” Garcia said.

Here, Garcia is alluding to the sobering reality that poverty exists in the shadow of paradise in these parts of Collier County.

Marco Y student counselor Jen Carter loves her job.

“The kids are so positive and happy with great attitudes,” Carter said. “I enjoy helping them with homework, and also doing games, arts and crafts and other activities.”

Summer camper Ka’mari Perry, who’ll next week switch to being a regular after-schooler as usual, has two reasons for getting excited.

“I like the working and learning after school, and I enjoy the games too,” Perry said.

A favorite game, he said, is Fishy, Fishy, Cross My Ocean, which is a tag running game with “sharks” in the middle. A tag turns runners into sharks themselves, making it more difficult to get to the other side as the ranks of the “sharks” increase.

Costs vary. Marco is $45 weekly for members ($50 non members), and hours are 2 to 6:30 p.m. Some subsidies are available upon application, while automatic subsidies apply at the other three sites.

Annual packages, that include summer camps and after school programs as well as winter, spring and summer breaks are available for Marco Y member kids at $170 a month ($200 non members).

Afterschool programs on Marco cater for K through Grade 6 students (Manatee and Parkside through Grade 5, and Everglades City through Grade 8). Marco subsidies, incidentally, are available upon application.

Garcia encouraged interested parents to sign up in the next few days leading up to the start of school by calling her at 394-3144 x 116.

Potential school counselors, who must be over 18, should call Garcia as well. She has some positions open.

Youth Development Manager Stephanie Pepper is equally excited about the Y’s Early Learning Program, which caters for students from ages 2 to 5.

A staff of certified teachers and credentialed directors takes care of the more than four dozen youngsters, and the emphasis, Pepper said, is on “hands-on, trial-and-error learning.”

Quoting from a Chicago center release she liked, Pepper said it states that research shows that early exposure (to learning) has long-term effects on kids’ success at school as well as in later life.

It also concludes that “exposure leads to lower delinquency rates, better cognitive and language skills, and higher salaries in adult life.”

Early learning hours are 7 a.m. through 6 p.m., and there are assorted payment options which can be obtained by contacting Pepper at youthdev@marcoy.org or at 394-3144, ext. 104.

Pepper added that she’s currently negotiating a VPK program, which is government sponsored. She will provide more details as the goal progresses.

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