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YMCA program exercises minds, bodies of youths

June 25, 2007|By CATHERINE SUDUE

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about summer activities for children.

HAGERSTOWN - Nettie Anderson-Burrs' experience as the mother of 12 children tells her when she's come across something good for her children.

A YMCA playground program falls into that category.

Anderson-Burrs, who has adopted seven children and is the biological mother or stepmother of five others, has enrolled some of them in the City Playground program at Hellane Park for the past five years. Four of her children are attending this summer.

"It's the best program in the county that gives kids the exercise component, the learning component ... and it gives them the social aspect, also," she said.

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The YMCA's City Playground is a free summer program sponsored by the city of Hagerstown. The program has been around for 15 to 20 years and was designed to keep children ages 6 to 12 constructive and safe during the summer.

Parents drop off their children in the morning for six hours of activities and supervision. The activities range from playing football to weekly trips to Claude M. Potterfield Pool.

"The girls don't like getting out in the heat, but the guys love it," said Aaron Elbin, a first-year staff member with the City Playground program. "We play whatever sport they feel like playing that day ... baseball, football, basketball."

Talaya Young, 9, a Paramount Elementary School student, is glad that she will be able to play her favorite sport throughout the summer.

"We play basketball in school, so it (the program) will help me with basketball," Talaya said.

Anderson-Burrs said the camps at Hellane Park have become a family and generational bond between her children and grandchildren. Burrs' daughter, Daphne Hughes, has been taking her children to Hellane Park for four years. Hughes has adopted four of her five children and believes that the program is not only a great way for children to connect, but that it also is good for them physically and mentally.

"It's so great. Not only do they (YMCA) keep them physically fit and active outside in the fresh air, they also keep their minds challenged," Hughes said. "They keep them with the educational (gamut), and the director here has been very flexible with all of their different personalities."

YMCA Senior Programs Director Dan Prescott said the program provides a safe environment for children. He's overseen the program for eight years and said he's watched some of the participants grow up.

"It's amazing to see the kids that go up to the parks matured," Prescott said. "I have seen them move on to high school and college. They have come back grown up, and it's always nice to watch them build relationships and become mentors. Hopefully, many of these children will grow and become respectable citizens of Hagerstown."

Tina Baxtrom, 26, site director at Hellane Park, said the educational component of the program helps children prepare for school.

"We have math, science and reading activities," she said. "One of the biggest things that I have seen is the improvement in their social skills. We have kids come in clammed up, and by the end of the day, they're excited."

Baxtrom has worked with the program for five years.

"I can't give it up. It's a rewarding job," she said. "Where else can you go and play with kids all day?"

For information about the YMCA City Playground program, call 301-739-3990.

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