The Mattoon Area Family YMCA and Neal Center YMCA Summer Camp programs have benefited from the support of an Americorp VISTA this year.

“Our summer camp program looks a lot different this year due to the COVID-related changes,” Kayla Kerner, Youth & Community Senior Program Director, said.

“Mikayla Beck, our AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer, has been hard at work making sure our youth stay connected to the community and keep their minds engaged.”

The VISTA portion of the title stands for Volunteers in Service to America. AmeriCorps VISTA members serve full time for one full year at a community organization (nonprofit, college/university, local government office, etc.) on anti-poverty projects. AmeriCorps VISTA members work on projects that build the capacity of their organization, such as developing outreach and marketing campaigns, building a social media presence, creating a program database, writing grants, managing a program in its first year, and recruiting volunteers.

“I’ve known for years that I wanted to do something to make a difference in my community — to help equip children to go out and make a positive impact on the world,” Beck said. “The Americorp VISTA program and the YMCA have equipped me to do that — even in these unprecedented times.”

The YMCA has partnered with Fit-2-Serve for several years to allow the campers to help in the community garden. This year, under Beck’s guidance, campers have created their own community garden at the Y. Campers all help maintain the garden and will have the opportunity to take produce home to their families.

“Watching the flowers grow and thrive not only gives our campers a sense of achievement, but I believe it also gives them hope and brings them joy,” Kerner said.

Beck has also continued to improve STEM programming for Y students through a K’Nex Club. Through the support of a program improvement grant, the Y purchased several K’Nex kits and provided instruction for K’Nex Club members to help them use the kits to create and practice critical thinking.

While the YMCA summer camps are operating with reduced capacity this year due to COVID-19 concerns, they are maintaining a waiting list for community members who are seeking child care or simply socialization opportunities for students in kindergarten through age 12 this summer. The Y is always looking for community partners who are interested in providing fun and unique experiences for campers.

For more information, contact Kayla Kerner at 217-234-9494 or kkerner@mattoonymca.org.

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