Entering seventh grade is an exciting time in children’s lives, as they prepare to take on their new role as a teenager. They are finding themselves, deepening friendships and are increasingly more curious about the world, but research shows risk factors greatly increase during this time.

In addition to these risk factors, they are experiencing increased isolation as schools navigate through these times of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is for these reasons that the Kokomo Family YMCA is returning the Y’s Seventh-Grade Initiative (7GI), which provides free memberships to Howard County seventh graders. 7GI initially launched in February of 2019. The program has been made possible from its inception through annual donations from the FCA Foundation, the charitable arm of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. 2021’s program also will feature a timely social justice component created and led by licensed teacher Christi Keller.

“We are pleased to continue our support of the 7GI program and underwrite the development and delivery of new social justice programming,” Christine Estereicher, global chief operating officer for the FCA Foundation, said. “Helping young people realize their power to address social, cultural and economic inequalities with compassion and empathy is key to building strong and sustainable communities where each one of us feels included, respected and valued equally.”

The Y is excited to offer memberships to all local seventh-graders pre-registered through the 7GI program, said Trish Severns, CEO of the Kokomo Family YMCA.

"Now more than ever, we are aware of how much safe spaces and positive influences can combat unhealthy behaviors,” said Severns. “Risk factors and influences that have been shown to increase the likelihood of these unhealthy behaviors include substance abuse, delinquency, school drop out, teen pregnancy, and violence. It is during the early teen years that youth begin to distance themselves from family and positive support. And with the pandemic disrupting their normal lives, a program like 7GI can offer safe and healthy avenues for our local 7th graders. We are so glad to see this program continue and are very grateful to the FCA Foundation.”

In addition to new enrollments into the 7GI program, the Y will also honor the memberships of those who signed up in early 2020.

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The Y will make accessible the support and opportunities that empower these youth to reach their personal potential. It will also provide youth with the knowledge, skills, character, and passion to be more active in the community as adults.

7th graders enrolled in the 7GI program will have an opportunity to be active by swimming, playing basketball, using select equipment, and participating in select classes at the Y. They will also have a chance to engage twice a week for much needed connections and may also bring their whole family in to participate in activities at the Y during Sunday night Family Prime Time.

“The FCA Foundation’s generosity is opening up possibilities for these kids to be healthy, spirit, mind and body,” said Severns. “We are proud to be the place where teenagers can learn and make memories with friends and family.”

Rolling enrollment began Jan. 1, 2021. To receive a free membership, a parent or caregiver may preregister their 7th grader through Jan. 31, 2021. A report card or school ID will be required for the child to acquire their key tag. The first 50 new sign-ups will receive a free swag bag!

The 7th Grade Initiative supports the Y’s cause of strengthening the community and making sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.

An overview of the program and frequently asked questions are available at kokomoymca.org.

For more information, contact Tony Budenz at 765-457-4447 or tony.budenz@kokomoymca.org