Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 2:11 am | Fair 64º


Local News

Santa Maria Valley YMCA Celebrates Rise UP Pilot Program Aimed at Keeping Youth Safe

The growing program was designed to prevent high-risk behavior among local children, and lessons included STEM classes, healthy cooking and fitness


A “bridging ceremony” last week celebrated a growing Santa Maria program that strives to keep children on a path of healthy living and social responsibility.

Rise UP, offered at the Santa Maria Valley YMCA, is a three-year pilot program designed to prevent high-risk behavior such as gang involvement among third- through fifth-grade students and guide them to stay on track, catching them before they become vulnerable sixth-graders.

“We wanted to give you an opportunity to have chances and experiences and exposure and education that you might not have at that kind of an age,” Shannon Seifert, CEO of the Santa Maria Valley YMCA, told the youths Friday. “You just never know where it’ll take you.” 

Friday’s ceremony to mark the completion of the program included the walk across a symbolic bridge where they were greeted by Allan Hancock College President Kevin Walthers. 

He accepted them into Bulldog Bound, part of a multi-stage program to encourage youths to think about attending college with the Promise Program, which provides a year of free tuition for local high school graduates who enroll at Hancock. 

“We’re all in this together,” Walthers said. “This is a good partnership.” 

Seifert said the YMCA and Hancock College united to create the program amid a community-wide focus on ending violence in the community through the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Safety after a series of violent gang-related homicides and other incidents. 

“We thought we’re ill-equipped to be an intervention program, but what we’re really good at is young childhood prevention,” Seifert said, explaining the impetus for the homegrown program.

ERG Resources and Rabobank provided funding for the pilot program with participants carefully chosen among those who are at risk for joining gangs.

kids getting lanyards Click to view larger
The graduation ceremony for the pilot Rise UP program included presentation of lanyards for the Allan Hancock College Bulldog Bound program. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In 2019, the Rise UP program will double in size and grow annually beyond that, Seifert said.

“The efficacy has been invaluable and we can’t wait to get the measurements from this next year,” she said.

Eventually, Seifert said she wants to see the program adopted by the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Maria Valley and city Recreation and Parks Department to triple the outreach over the next three years.

“We think it can be done and we think we may have someone lined up to help us all do that,” she said. “It’s going to take a village. It’s going to take this community to make it happen.”

The program required strict parent involvement along with the youths’ participation. Lessons spanned a wide spectrum including healthy cooking, swimming, fitness, science, engineering, technology, math and more.

The first year included taking time to gain the trust of the families, Seifert said.

“Now they want their younger siblings to come in. Now they’re telling their cousins,” she added. “And now it’s on fire.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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