With so much out there bombarding kids at the vulnerable teen and pre-teen ages—fast media, competition, peer pressure, bullying and electronics—the Wilton Family Y has focused some attention on increasing the variety of programming they offer that age group. They’re beefing up their programs for teens and pre-teens as well as creating new programs for grade school children in the arts and humanities areas. Some of the new classes include guitar, Italian, Youth in Government and a girl’s empowerment group.

“We want to boost that population, especially the programs for our younger teen, middle school group,” explained Geoff Malyszka, the Y’s afterschool and teen director. “We used to have a great population that age a few years ago, and we just want to get that back up again. We’d like to have a regular group of people that come in regularly to play basketball, play sports, work out, do whatever. Just having them here as volunteers for special events, and having them as part of our regular family. That’s who turns into our staff as they get older—for camp, for after school, anything like that.”

To do so, they’re creating some interesting programming to see what interests people. “We’re throwing stuff out there to see what sticks,” Malyszka said. For kids aged 12-and-older, programs include “Youth in Government” and “Leaders Club,” which are both national Y initiatives, as well as a Book Club and a girl’s empowerment group called “Sister Circle.”

“A lot of people don’t realize that our teen program is free to members. They can just come here afterschool and hang out, and have a safe spot to be,” Laura Koellmer, the other afterschool and teen director at the Y, explained. “We have a teen coordinator who will oversee the teens. But they have their own space. The teens have access to the gym, to swimming and the Y facilities Monday-Friday after school.”

The teen space is called the Student Union Teen Center.  Teens aged 12-and-up can hang out Monday-Friday after school in the Meeting House, which offers its own Snack Bar, kitchen, ping pong table, lounge area, TV (with Xbox, Wii, DVD player and age-appropriate games and movies), board games, school supplies and study areas.

For younger students 5-12 years old, there are new arts and humanities courses.  As it’s explained on the Y website, “Traditionally known as places to learn how to do the breast stroke or make a jump shot, YMCAs are rapidly becoming the places where kids and adults learn to paint, write, sing or act. The Y has a deep regard for the power of art, especially on childhood development, where studies have shown that children exposed to drama, music and dance may do a better job at mastering reading, writing and math. Appreciating the arts can play a major role in building a healthy spirit, mind and body.”

The only class that is currently running during the early fall session, going on now, is Cartooning. “The others didn’t have enrollment enough but they will be reintroduced for the late fall session. We’ll be offering Italian, German, a painting class, chess and guitar,” Malyska said.

Registration for the Late Fall class session begins online for members on Oct. 21 and for non-members a week later on Oct. 28. Classes begin on Nov. 4 and run through Dec. 21. For more information visit the Wilton Family Y website or contact Geoff and Laura at 203-762-8384.