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The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA is rolling into underserved neighborhoods in a bright, colorful van - but instead of ice cream, we are bringing kids and families healthy fruits and vegetables. We call it the Veggie Van — a Mobile Market Place. With the Veggie Van, the Y is distributing fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables into targeted communities, which are labeled food deserts. A food desert is defined as an urban neighborhood without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. “It’s when the corner convenience store or gas station serves as the grocery store, where healthier food options are severely limited and prices are inflated,” explains Central City YMCA Executive Director Mike McCollum at an unveiling ceremony on July 10th.

Only 20 percent of residents in Hillsborough County meet the recommended five-a-day servings of fruit and vegetables. In underserved communities, the statistic drops to below 8.5 percent. With the Veggie Van, the Tampa Y is providing seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables to communities which have a demonstrated need for nutritional wellness — Wimauma Village, Tampa Heights and Sulphur Springs in Hillsborough County and Lacoochee in Pasco County. Other communities may be added depending on need. Community food distributions take place every two weeks on a rotating basis.

Darlene-Anika Christian participated in one of the early Veggie Van stops in Sulphur Springs. “They can supply you with things you really need and at such a low price. It’s unbelievable. You get more than your money’s worth,” says Darlene-Anika. “I wasn’t buying the vegetables I truly needed because I couldn’t afford it. But now, I’m baking more potatoes and eating more salads with radishes and tomatoes.”

Veggie Van participants are pre-screened and children receiving free or reduced-price lunches automatically qualify. A nutrition education coordinator is on hand to work with families on improving food preparation and cooking habits to minimize the risk of obesity, chronic disease and high blood pressure.

And the Veggie Van is much more than just about good health. By providing kids the basic necessities in life — like food — the Y is helping them succeed. “For example, if we have a child that is struggling in reading, we get them a tutor. However, if the child then shows up for tutoring hungry, it will be difficult for them to focus and learn,” says Tampa YMCA President & CEO Tom Looby. “We hope the Veggie Van will make an impact here. This is one of the programs that will help the pieces of the puzzle fit together better.”

The Y hopes to serve about 600 families a month with the Veggie Van, impacting more families like Darlene-Anika’s. “You can’t beat this. It’s a good nutritional meal,” testifies Darlene-Anika. “It’s a blessing, truly a blessing.”

The Tampa YMCA is able to launch the Veggie Van thanks to generous funding from the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, The Joy McCann Foundation and Bank of America. Additionally, the Florida Department of Agriculture has played a key advisory role. For more information, contact Mobile Food Market Director Elizabeth Roman at 813-229-9622 ext. 1729 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 


Pictured above: The Tampa Y’s Veggie Van is bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved neighborhoods.

 

 
 

Bethany Mattacchione felt a rush of panic as she watched her 4-year-old son, Roman, fall head first into a pool. "He was running around very fast, which he had been told not to do, and ricocheted off of the metal beam of the screen and it threw him into the water,” shares Bethany. She recalls physically holding her mother-in-law back from jumping in after Roman. You see, Bethany had full faith that Roman would put to use the skills he learned from the Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) program at the Campo Family YMCA.

ISR is designed to teach children 6 months to 4-years-old water self-rescue skills. Tailor-made lessons help young children become comfortable around water and learn how to save themselves if they come in contact with water in a harmful way. Bethany says although she was worried when her son fell in, she felt “comforted in the thought that he had mastered so much, so quickly, with the program.” ISR instructors are trained for eight intensive weeks before they become certified to teach. “Our instructor was patient and saw the strengths and weaknesses of my 2- and 4-year-olds that she could tweak and use to her advantage to get them to do what she needed from them,” says Bethany.

As an avid Y member, Bethany is thrilled with the extra layer of protection ISR provides her children. “I love that now, at 5 and 3, my kids are excellent swimmers,” says Bethany. “They know how to float if they get exhausted. It was an inadvertent result of rescue swim that my kids are such fluent swimmers, but I'm so thankful.”

The ISR program and the Y, in general, have truly affected Bethany and her family in a positive way. “Good people seem to congregate here,” testifies Bethany. “People who actively pursue betterment of body, soul and spirit are very much what I have encountered. I love the Y!”

Click here to learn more information about the Tampa YMCA’s ISR program. It’s just one of the ways the Y is working to ensure not one more child drowns in the Tampa Bay area.

 


Pictured above: 5-year-old Roman learns water survival skills in the ISR program at the Campo Y.

 
 

This summer, YMCA Teen Achievers from one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in Tampa are learning how to row. It is a sport many of the Sulphur Springs students may never have come in contact with if it weren’t for the partnership and generosity of The Stewards Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization with the mission to use the sport of rowing as a vehicle to raise self-esteem and teach teamwork and responsibility to youth.

Row Tampa Camp started its inaugural summer program earlier this month. Every day for two weeks, the Y transported Y Teen Achievers from the Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA to the docks and boathouse at Riverfront Park. The Stewards Foundation, Inc. provided the coaching and equipment to teach the Olympic sport of rowing, giving the teens from Sligh Middle School – where 86 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – the opportunity to improve their fitness while enjoying the sights and sounds along the Hillsborough River.

Y Teen Achievers is a career and college readiness program designed to support middle and high school students who otherwise may not set post-graduation goals to either enroll in a higher education institute or begin a chosen career path. Y Teen Achievers helps teens raise their academic standards, develop a positive sense of self, build character, explore diverse college and career options, and interact with professionals who serve as role models to inspire them to greater heights.

The Y and Stewards Foundation, Inc. are looking for generous donors interested in helping continue this collaboration throughout the year. If you’re interested in donating to help at-risk youth succeed, contact Amber Carpenter at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 813-224-9622 ext. 1241.

 


Pictured above: Teen Achievers from Sligh Middle School learning how to row during summer camp.

 
 


As a single mother, Torrie Williams says she depends on the school system and community for help with her 10-year-old son, Tory Giles. "Typically, I don't look forward to summer break because of the high cost of childcare,” shares Torrie. Generous donations funded a full-paid camp scholarship for Tory at the Bob Gilbertson Central City Family YMCA last summer.
 

Torrie says not only did Y Summer Camp provide a fun and safe environment for her son, but it also prepared him academically for the 4th grade.  “The educational program is a life saver. The time set aside to incorporate math, reading and science specific to his grade level is remarkable,” says Torrie. “Because of the daily lessons, he is faster, sharper and more accurate.” 
 

To help community families, the Tampa YMCA also provides free breakfast and lunch, not only to our summer campers but to any child in the community. “There is a huge comfort in knowing he is getting two nutritious meals, five days a week. That takes a great deal of financial burden off me,” claims Torrie.
 

At the Tampa Y, we believe when a child’s basic needs are met, he or she is free to focus on learning. We’re committed to closing the academic achievement gap between children from low-income households and their middle/upper-income peers with a focus on academics in our summer camp, afterschool and other youth development programs. To find out more or register for Y Summer Camp, click here.

 


Pictured above: Summer camp keeps 10-year-old Tory’s mind and body active at the Central City Y.

 

 
 
 
 


The past motivated Hilary Konigsberg to start her three-year-old daughter in swim lessons at a very young age. "We put Maggie in as soon as we could because our son jumped in a pool at two years old and didn't know how to swim. Thankfully, we were standing there and watching him,” recalls Hilary. “We want all of our children to understand how to be safe near water.”
 

Maggie has been taking swim lessons at the North Brandon and Campo Family YMCAs for more than two years. In that time, Hilary has seen her daughter blossom. “Maggie has become very confident in the water, overly so,” says Hilary. “She can get herself to the side and get out without any assistance. It puts me at ease, slightly, that she has this skill down.”
 

Y swim programs not only teach technique, but also provide a safe place to meet new friends and develop life skills. “Maggie has gained confidence and independence through this program,” shares Hilary.
 

At the Tampa Y, we’re truly committed to drowning prevention and encourage all children, teens and adults to learn how to swim, like Maggie. It’s especially important in Hillsborough County, which regularly ranks among the highest counties nationally for drowning cases in children under the age of four. Basic swimming skills and water safety practices save lives every day. Click here for more information.

 


Pictured above: Three-year-old Maggie learns how to swim at the North Brandon and Campo Family YMCAs.

 

 
 


Our lifeguards are trained and ready to save lives! The Tampa Y is committed to water safety and uses a comprehensive, rigorous training program to prepare lifeguards to be vigilant and effectively guard our pools, lakes and splash areas. We strongly believe in ongoing training and development, requiring monthly in-service trainings and facility-specific instruction for our lifeguards.
 

Last month, 130 lifeguards across the Tampa YMCA association participated in our annual Summer Safety Training at the Bob Sierra Youth and Family Center. For two hours, lifeguards are trained in vigilance, overall safety of Y pools and expectations of a Tampa YMCA lifeguard. The team also hears from aquatic experts, top Y executives and aquatic directors from our ten pool locations.
 

Tonya Roy, a risk consultant with the Redwoods Group, provided the keynote speech during the training. “She was quick to say we had a wonderful group that was engaged, on time and well trained,” shares Associate Vice President of Risk Management Joe Mangione. “We have a great group of guards that are ready to keep our pools safe this summer.”

 


Pictured above: 130 lifeguards across the Tampa YMCA association participated in our annual Summer Safety Training at the Bob Sierra Youth and Family Center.

 

 
 

10-year-old Amarion Lock has his sights set on being a professional football player. But, in order to get there, he knows he has to focus on school. “It’s important to read and I tell him he won’t make it if he doesn’t get an education,” shares his mother, Framaine Brock. Amarion is already on the right track with the Y READS! program at Sulphur Springs Elementary School. It’s an intensive literacy tutoring program that pairs a trained adult with one or two children for two hours each week.

The YMCA of the USA selected Amarion and his family to document their Y READS! experience through video storytelling. They sent him a complementary iPad and asked the Tampa Y to help capture his story of impact on camera.

Framaine says Amarion’s biggest challenge is “…being embarrassed for not pronouncing the words right or someone picking on him because he’s taking too long to read the sentence. He doesn’t want anyone to be around when he’s trying to read.” But, all that’s changing as Amarion gains more confidence. “When I see a hard word, I just go with it and sound it out,” shares Amarion. “What I like most about reading is talking about my book with my mom. I love to write about the books.”

Framaine notices a big change in Amarion since starting Y READS! “He has come a long way. His reading has really improved,” testifies Framaine. “He’s starting to read more books. I see that he enjoys it. He tries to tell someone else how to pronounce words now.”

Y READS! teaches Amarion more than reading skills. It’s boosting his self-esteem, imagination and his ability to succeed in and out of school. And no matter the career path he chooses, Amarion knows his mom is his number one fan. She says, “I really want him to get above level in reading, continue striving to be the best, and to know that everyone makes mistakes.”

The Tampa Y offers Y READS! at Sulphur Springs, Twin Lakes, Pizzo and Frost elementary schools. To volunteer or for further information, please contact 813.924.7563 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Click here to watch Amarion’s video storytelling project in its entirety.

 


Pictured above: Click on the video to follow Amarion Lock as he improves his reading skills through the Y READS! Program.

 

 

Teaching children how to be safe around water is not a luxury; it is a necessity. The Tampa YMCAs drowning prevention programs teach kids essential water safety skills, which can open up a world of possibilities for them to satisfy their curiosity safely.

At the Tampa Y this summer, you may notice kids proudly showing off green wrist bands. This is a result of the Y’s Go for Green program. Each Monday, summer campers are swim tested. Those who do not pass the swim test must wear a red band. All red band swimmers receive swim lessons throughout the week - at no extra charge. The goal is to teach all Y campers the skills required to pass the swim test and get a green band.

When Angelo and Lorenzo Blanco both started summer camp last year at the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA, neither knew how to swim well. Angelo was able to pass the swim test after three weeks of lessons and Lorenzo after five weeks. "The swim test was the hardest thing ever, but I knew I could do it,” says Angelo. “When I passed the test, it was the best moment of my life!"

Now, Lorenzo loves swimming so much, he takes group swim lessons at the Y and wants to join the swim team one day. The brothers' mother, Trish, calls the Go for Green program a blessing. For the first time, she feels comfortable with the boys in and around the water. Whether they’re at the beach or at a friend’s pool, Trish says she now has peace of mind.

Go for Green is made possible through the generous support of the Tampa Bay Rays, United Way Suncoast and the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. We’re working together to ensure not one more child drowns in the Tampa Bay area.

 


Pictured above: Lorenzo learned how to swim during summer camp at the Northwest Y.

 

Late last month, more than 2,100 children, teens and adults got a jump start on summer during the Tampa Ys Healthy Kids Day® at Curtis Hixon Park. When kids are out of school, they can face hurdles – or gaps – that prevent them from reaching their full potential, related to hunger, water safety, learning, safe spaces to play and health. The Tampa Y helps kids “hop the gap” and achieve more, providing a safe to place to learn, stay healthy and build friendships.

YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day, celebrated at nearly 1,300 Ys across the country, aims to get more kids moving and learning, so they can keep up the habit all summer long – a critical out-of-school time for kids’ health. At the free community event, kids received encouragement to stay physically and intellectually active all summer long. Families also learned easy healthy habits to replicate at home.

From bounce houses, sports and games to face-painting, caricature artists and free vision screenings…kids and families got to try a variety of fun activities. Families also sampled fresh fruits and healthy snacks. The Tampa Y wants to thank the following community partners, which helped educate families on how to lead healthier lives at the free event:

Tobacco Free Florida I Quit with Area Health Education Center (AHEC)
Publix
GoGo Squeez
Graphix Screen Printing
DJ Jake Dela Cruz

 

> View photos from Healthy Kids Day

 


Pictured above: During the Y’s Healthy Kids Day, children of all ages participated in a variety of fun activities, such as obstacle courses.

 
 

This week is National Volunteer Week and the perfect opportunity to put volunteerism on a platform. Not only does the Tampa YMCA depend on volunteers to fulfill its cause-driven mission, but the Y also connects people to the community thorough service projects that inspire giving back. One of the ways we do this is through our teen programs.

For example, every month Teen Achievers from the Bob Gilbertson Central City YMCA participate in a service project, including a year-long engagement with the Children’s Cancer Center. “This is wonderful for our teens,” says Senior Program Director Wayne Johnson. “Although some Teen Achievers are at a disadvantage economically, nothing compares to dealing with cancer or life-threatening health issues. It takes the focus off of them and their woes and enables them to appreciate the struggles of fellow human beings.”

Likewise, Y Teen Achievers from Sligh Middle School spent a recent weekend helping to restore an inner-city church. For more information about the Y’s Teen Achievers program, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 813.229.9622.

 


Pictured above: During a recent service project, Y Teen Achievers from Sligh Middle School spent their Saturday helping to restore an inner-city church.

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