YMCA summer camp in Bradenton closes students' learning gap
As school lets out for the summer, many low-income and minority students in Manatee County often have nowhere to go.
Camp DASH is a free YMCA summer program at Harllee Middle School for students entering first through eighth grade. From 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, students receive two free meals and rotate through specialized programs in reading, character development, art and sports.
"It's really meaningful because some of these kids wouldn't have anything to do unless they could come here," said Sean Allison, Manatee County YMCA president and CEO.
Site director Dana Clark said football, basketball and soccer are the most popular sports in the community. But thanks to the Tampa Bay Lightning, street hockey is one more sport that Camp DASH students will be able to learn.
On Tuesday, the NHL team donated enough equipment for 40 students to play the game, including 40 sticks, two goals, four sets of goalie gear, 40 reversible pennies and a case of balls.
The donation was part of the Lightning's "Equip the Thunder" project, which aims to donate 100,000 logoed street hockey sticks and balls and 500 complete sets of gear over five years to elementary and middle schools in need.
So far, the team has already donated to 335 schools since the program began three years ago. That's 84,000 sticks and balls and 342 complete sets of hockey gear.
"What's not to love about this?" Allison said. "When we talked to the Lightning, they said, 'Yes, this is the kind of community that we want to do things in.'"
DASH, which stands for developmental assets, academic achievement, social responsibility and healthy living, seeks to close the summer learning gap for students.
Funded by a grant from the Manatee Community Foundation, Camp DASH students read for 30 minutes each day and complete activities based on the books they read.
"It's kind of like school but it's not," said 14-year-old Christopher Conseo. "You can read but you can have fun at the same time."
Rhiannon Blaney is the south county executive program director for the YMCA. She said the program is in its first year of service and doesn't have its own building, but Allison thinks Harllee is the perfect fit.
"It's well-taken care of," he said. "It's a wonderful facility, and it's strategically placed in an area where we can really make an impact."
After Harllee Middle School closed its doors to traditional students in 2017, the campus was used to house other district programs during the school year, forcing students in the area to be bussed out to other middle schools.
"I think more agencies should join us over here at Harllee," Allison said. "I would love to see Harllee Middle School be like a mall where you have multiple brands of service for kids in one location. I think it would do tremendous things for the entire community."
Between 50 and 80 students attend the program per week. Blaney says one student even bikes himself to the school every day. She has never met his parents.
"These kids are just something else," she said. "They're special."
The camp will run until July 27 and is currently accepting campers. For more information or to register, call 941-798-9622 or visit manateeymca.org.
Follow Emily Wunderlich on Twitter @EmilyWunderlich.