Thousands of high school students across the metro area can hit the gym this summer free of charge thanks to a program aimed at offering young people safe and healthy options when school is not in session.

The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities are partnering to offer some 6,000 youth free memberships to 25 YMCA locations scattered throughout the Twin Cities-area.
The organizations’ effort aims to decrease risky behavior such as drinking, drug use and violence that teens are more apt to engage in during summer months.

Only about 20 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds hold a summer job these days, according to research the groups cited from the Pew Research Center. That figure is even lower for teens of color.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he hopes teachers, parents and other adults in the community will help spread the word to teens and encourage them to take advantage of the program.

“I think it’s great to have these types of opportunities to keep high school kids engaged during the summer months,” he said Wednesday. “… You’ve got parents who might be working during the daytime and the whole host of issues where you’ve got young people without that structured school setting. Having things to keep them occupied and their mind and body engaged is always a positive thing.”

In addition to offering the free memberships, the participating Ys will offer health and well-being classes, leadership and development programs, youth-specific fitness challenges and job-readiness workshops.

“Anytime kids have something positive to do, somewhere safe to spend their time, that’s a good thing,” said Steve Linders, a St. Paul police spokesman. “Our officers love and support the YMCA and YWCA and all youth programming in the city.”
Some teens don’t get healthy meals at home, so eight locations also will offer free meals to youths who obtain memberships. Those sites include Blaisdell in Minneapolis, Burnsville, Coon Rapids, East St. Paul, Maplewood, Midway St. Paul, New Hope and West St. Paul.

All teens entering ninth through 12th grade are eligible to participate by visiting one of the 25 involved locations beginning June 1 with a valid ID, class schedule or report card, along with the permission of an adult.

Adults can sign registration forms at home and bring them to their YMCA site or complete the online registration for teens at home.

Each participating location can accommodate up to 250 participants.

The program was first offered last year to 4,800 kids. The spots filled in 12 days, meaning this year’s memberships are likely to go quickly as well, according to YMCA staff.

There are wait lists available for any teens who sign up after spots fill.

The memberships are valid from June 4 to Aug. 31. Visit ymcamn.org/getsummer for more information.

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