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Bryan YMCA awarded $10,000 grant
Local kids at the YMCA After School program. - photo by Ross Blair

The Bryan County YMCA has just received a $10,200 grant from retailer JCPenney to help more children participate in after school programs on both ends of the county.

The grant is targeted to help YMCAs provide financial assistance to youth who are not currently participating in an after school program because their families lack the necessary financial resources, or those who are currently participating in a program, but who are at risk of leaving due to lack of funds.

The gift is one of 340 similar grants being awarded by the JCPenney Afterschool Fund to YMCAs around the country. JCPenney Afterschool Fund’s total national contribution exceeds $3.5 million.

"We are firmly committed to supporting youth-serving organizations like the Bryan County YMCA that are dedicated to providing safe, meaningful programs during the crucial hours of 3 to 6 p.m., when studies show that youth are at a greater risk of involvement in crime, drug abuse and other destructive behaviors," says Jodi Gibson, president of the JCPenney Afterschool Fund. "By combining resources, we can help reduce the number of unserved youth and ensure that students of all backgrounds and income levels are able to benefit from after school programs."

In addition, the retail chain has given the YMCA 18 $50 JCPenney gift cards, which will be awarded to the first 18 kids who are able to take advantage of grant scholarships in Bryan County.

"We have a wonderful educational and recreational after school program, and this should help a lot of kids," said Tony Welch, Executive Director YMCA of Coastal Ga. Richmond Hill/Pembroke. "Even though our rates are affordable, we realize it still may pose a financial burden with today’s economy."

Welch said he plans to help a lot of families by spreading out this grant to applying many partial scholarships, instead of a limited number of full scholarships.

The after school programs take place at the new Pembroke Community Center and YMCA Fun Club site next to the Richmond Hill Library. Both facilities offer a before-school program and applications for grant scholarships can be filled out at either location.

The after school programs entail a snack, tutorial homework time, recreation time and a variety of "enrichment programs."

The theme of the programs change each week, geared toward learning or enhancing a particular skill, such as sports, gardening and cooking.

New this year is "Friday Fun Day," which includes a field trip or special activity. This may involve activities such as a trip to the movies, skating, bowling or a pizza or ice cream social.

Welch said he is confident the grant will be received the next two years as well, which he said seems to be a trend for other past recipients of the same grant in other areas.

Welch said he will continue to apply for grants to enhance the county YMCA programs.

Meanwhile, Welch said $42,000 has been raised between both ends of the county for a ‘priceless gift campaign,' which grants YMCA memberships for those in need. He expressed his gratitude toward area businesses and individuals who contributed, and said hundreds of area kids have benefited as a result.

Welch said he hopes those same contributors will help when it comes time to build the new YMCA facility in Richmond Hill, which is two to five years away from becoming a reality.

Welch said land acquisition is no longer an obstacle, since the group has received two prime pieces of real estate for consideration of the new facility. One is off Daniel Siding Road, donated by Lamar Smith, while the other is near the Hwy. 144 Spur, donated by Johnny Murphy. Welch said they are undecided which tract will house the main facility, but both sites will be utilized – with one to become a smaller facility.

Meanwhile, he said the use of the new community center in Pembroke is going smoothly and "I look for that facility to grow as there is a great need for YMCA services in the Pembroke area."

Welch said the overall future of the YMCA in Bryan County is looking bright. Adding to this is the fact that the incoming board chairman for Coastal Georgia YMCA, J.T. Turner, is a Richmond Hill resident. Turner is also the owner of J.T. Turner Construction.

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