How a Summer Learning Program Changed Conor's Life
Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
I sat in the back of the room and watched as each kid received a diploma commemorating their graduation from Power Scholars, a six-week program held at the Mel Korum Family YMCA this past summer. I could not help but reflect on a phrase a good friend of mine used to say to me: “Charlie, make the big time where you are at.” It may have only been a graduation ceremony for a summer Y program, but for the 15 kids accepting their diplomas, this was definitely the big time. For one mother in particular, it was a life-changing moment. I got choked up seeing the tears stream down her face, and realized there was something momentous about this event. I would discover later that this was a turning point in Conor’s life and for his mom as well.
For a 10-year-old, Conor had experienced way too much failure and rejection in his life. He struggled mightily in school and could never find solid footing; instead, he fell further behind. He was embarrassed to seek help, not wanting his peers to think he was “stupid.” He was terrified they would laugh at him; remaining silent felt safer, but only caused him to fall even further behind. School was a nightmare for Conor. His mom, Melissa, was heartbroken to see him suffer, and she tried everything in her power to help him, but his torment just continued.
Last spring, one of Conor’s teachers recommended that Melissa consider enrolling him in Power Scholars, a new program offered at the Mel Korum Family YMCA. Conor didn’t like the idea of spending his summer in a classroom setting, but as part of the program, he would also get to participate in Summer Day Camp activities at the Y like swimming and group games. Conor agreed to try it, though he was extremely cautious. He had never experienced success when it came to academics, so it was hard to believe Power Scholars would be any different.
The morning of the first day of the program, Conor was sick from the anxiety he felt just thinking about walking through the doors of the classroom; memories of the past immediately filled his head. Melissa remembered that the teacher told her the program was specifically designed to help kids who were behind in school and needed the extra attention. She reminded Conor of that fact and he seemed to relax enough to move forward. It would prove to be the beginning of a new chapter for Conor.
Two teachers greeted Conor and Melissa at the door with big smiles and introduced them to the other families in the program. It was readily apparent that everyone in the room was nervous, which oddly enough seemed to put them at ease. The parents watched for only a few moments before they departed, and as Melissa headed home, she clung to the hope that this would be a positive experience for her son. It was the only thing she wanted and she was desperate for it.
Throughout the day, Melissa wondered how he was doing, but thought that not receiving a phone call from the Y had to be a good sign. A few hours later, she went to pick him up and saw what seemed like a miracle. Conor was running on the playground, laughing and having the time of his life. She stood off to the side for a few minutes fully taking in the moment. Her son was having a great time, and she wanted to savor this sight. All the way home, Conor recounted the day; he even shared how the “school work wasn’t half bad” – a far cry from the torture he endured during the school year.
The six weeks seemed to fly by and Conor and Melissa were sad to see the program end. His progress in reading and math was extraordinary, and this progress triggered an even greater result in his emotional development. The withdrawn young boy seemed to disappear, and a new, ebullient personality took its place. He told her that he had a new superpower: his Pokémon kindness.
It was amazing to watch Conor and his fellow participants receive their diplomas. Each of them achieved progress in reading, writing, and math, which will play a vital role in their future development. The Power Scholars program was made possible by South Hill Rotary, which approached the Y with a desire to invest in the lives of kids who could use a helping hand. This, along with a few additional donors who wanted to help kids prevent summer learning loss, allowed the Y to provide a hugely impactful summer experience for these 15 young people and their families – one that will change their lives forever.