Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - July 16, 2010

Not your traditional Y

Today's YMCA focuses on services and programs

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Tri-Valley YMCA may not have a traditional setting, with the typical health club and swimming pool, but it's found a place in the community.

"We basically are called a program branch," explained Kelly Dulka, the local Y's executive director. "We run programs throughout the Tri-Valley, but all in rented facilities."

The YMCA is now known at the national level as simply "The Y." Dulka said legally, it will still be the YMCA, although she pointed out that people have been calling it "The Y" for years.

"We're not changing our name, we're changing what we're referred to," she said. "We're going to be implementing it over a year and a half."

The local Y has found its niche in the community, offering programs primarily designed for young people.

That includes a number of programs not normally considered part of the Y's mission, like kindergarten readiness for both the child and his or her parent, college tours, and soon, adult day care.

"A lot of people have said to us, 'That's not a typical Y program, is it?' and I always say the same thing: Any social service, any recreational service, any kind of youth development or senior development, health and wellness program, there's a Y in this country that's doing it and doing it well," Dulka said.

The Tri-Valley Y is picking up the ball after two adult day care centers, one in Pleasanton and one in Livermore, closed their doors. That new program is expected to open this fall.

The Y also keeps its doors open year-round with day care centers in three of Pleasanton's elementary schools and one middle school.

"We know the most dangerous time for middle school is from 3 to 6 (p.m.)," Dulka said. "Kids think, 'We're fine home alone,' but that's where the risk is."

Of course with summer in full swing, the Y is more closely associated with camps, and the local Y has its share: day camp, specialty camps, sleep-away camps and holiday camps.

"Our traditional day camp is what you think about, with cheers and songs and games and lanyards and friendship bracelets and all that kind of stuff," Dulka said. "Our camp is all summer long. We have a day camp program that we offer kids from kindergarten through high school. The high school part is teen leadership development. They're campers in leadership training, so part of their curriculum is leadership development. The Y talks about the bait and switch; kids come in thinking they're going to camp and they leave with great leadership skills."

Also for teens is the Y's well-known Youth in Government program, which culminates with a day in Sacramento with participants taking on the roles of legislators.

"It's legendary, what (bills) the kids have gotten through. It's really impressive," Dulka said. "Just in talking about it with the kids, they're changed because of this program."

This year, the Y also began a college tour program, with 20 students from the three local cities it serves.

"The reason we decided to offer some things in college planning -- we also did some college workshops and work with families on making sure kids are taking the right things in high school -- is because the school districts were cutting back," said Dulka. "They were cutting back on counselors, the counselors were tasked with more students and weren't able to provide as many services as they have in the past."

Filling those kinds of needs seems to what the local Y is all about. That's why, for example, it expanded kindergarten readiness to include parents.

Program Director Kris Farro said kindergarten readiness programs have been going on for about five years.

"We've had really great feedback from the school district that our kids are ready for kindergarten and they're on target with their phonics and their math skills; they can sit down for the required period of time," Farro said. "We realized we weren't helping the families get ready for kindergarten, so we've developed a program to work with them to identify which school is their home school, what day do they have to register by, how do they fill out those forms, where do they get the forms."

Among the problems, she said, were language and transportation barriers.

"They just weren't able to navigate the system. We've made it so they just come on site to where they're already bringing their child. They don't have to go to another school to set up another meeting, they just come directly to the site and we pretty much work one on one with the parents and do some coaching on how to get them ready for school as well," Farro said.

And while it may not have a gym or a pool, Dulka said the local Y is "definitively in expansion mode," looking to add a space in addition to its current Pleasanton office, where it can open more programs for adults.

"We're hoping to offer Zumba and kickboxing and more yoga classes, Mommy and Me (a class for mothers and toddlers), prenatal exercise classes," she said. That's on top of recent additions like its mentoring program, which has matched 30 mentors and mentees, and its popular Guides and Princesses program, which has 250 families in the Tri-Valley.

Dulka said her primary focus is always on bringing in money.

"I do the fundraising and I make sure the staff has the resources they need," she said. "We make sure the staff loves their job. We can't pay them enough, but we make sure that they know how important they are in the lives of the children they serve."

What does the Y offer?

* Adult day care for frail elders, expected to begin this fall in Dublin

* Health and wellness programs

* Camps: day camp, specialty camps, holiday camp

* Child care and child development programs

* Community programs that include Youth in Government, Guides and Princesses, teen leadership development, service learning, mentoring

* Community classes, from floral design and jewelry-making to parent education workshops

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