At the Y we believe all children deserve the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. By participating in values-based YMCA programs, youth and teens are advancing their learning, making smarter choices, getting healthy, and developing lifelong values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
California's Y's offer a range of programs to promote youth development. While every Y is tailored to its community, this list gives an overview of many of the programs available. To find out which programs are at your local Y, visit our Find a Y page to contact them directly.
With so many demands on today’s families and the increased focus on early brain development, families need all the support they can get to nurture the potential of youth. That’s why child care and early learning programs at the Y focus on holistically nurturing child development by providing a safe and healthy place to learn foundational skills, develop healthy, trusting relationships and build self-reliance through the Y values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
Children are like sponges – they watch and absorb knowledge, skills and values from everything and everyone around them. At the Y, we believe the values and skills learned early on are vital building blocks for quality of life and future success. That’s why our child care, afterschool and Child Watch programs are staffed with people who understand the cognitive, physical and social development of kids, the need children have to feel connected and supported in trying new things, and the caring and reinforcement parents and families need to help each other. At the Y, babies develop trust and security, preschoolers experience early literacy and learn about their world, and school-age kids make friends, learn new skills and do homework. Most importantly, children learn how to be their best selves. That makes for confident kids today, and contributing and engaged adults tomorrow.
Ys across the country offer quality full-day and partial-day child care for infants through preschoolers, enabling parents and family members to go to work knowing their children are in safe, stimulating environments.
With a focus on safety, health, social growth and academic enhancement, Y afterschool programs serve kindergartners through middle schoolers with a variety of programmatic and activity options to explore and develop their interests and talents.
Many Ys offer free drop-in child care while mom or dad make use of the Y. Playful, engaging options are plentiful for young children while you exercise or connect with others over shared interests.
All kids have great potential. At the Y, a leading nonprofit strengthening community through youth development, we work every day to help them set and achieve their personal and educational goals. As a result, millions of children and teens nationwide gain confidence as they recognize the Y as a place where they belong and can feel comfortable exploring new interests and passions. Additionally, through our leadership and academic enrichment programs such as mentoring, Youth and Government and college preparation, the Y makes sure that every child has an opportunity to envision and pursue a positive future, and to take an active role in strengthening his or her community.
It can be hard to figure out your place in the world. As a young person with your whole life ahead of you, having the right guidance and support can make a real difference in figuring out who you are and what you can achieve. Whether kids come to the Y looking to explore their interests, or for support in navigating challenges, the Y is committed to nurturing children and teens and roots for their success.
Leaders Clubs help develop youth ages 12 to 18 as leaders while fostering a culture of service. With adult advisors, teens have role models and mentors who can have a positive impact on their lives as they grow in their desire and ability to be a positive force in the community.
YMCA Youth in Government is a national program of the Y that involves thousands of teens nationwide in state-organized, model-government programs. Students from every corner of the U.S. have the opportunity to immerse themselves in experiential civic engagement and to, quite literally, practice democracy. Teens from across every state meet in their local Youth in Government groups throughout the year to discuss and debate issues that affect citizens of their state and to propose legislation. The program culminates with teens serving as delegates at their state conference, debating bills on the floor of the legislature.
Started in Houston, TX in 1967 to provide African American teens with a positive sense of self and aspirations for professional careers in the workforce, the purpose of YMCA Black Achievers is “to help teens of color set and pursue high educational and career goals resulting in graduation and acceptance to an institution of higher learning.” Black Achievers programs meet weekly or bi-weekly throughout the year at local YMCAs, high schools or college campuses all over the country. Through academic aid, career exploration and mentoring, this program helps youth to raise their academic standards, develop a positive sense of self, build character, explore diverse college and career options, and learn from role models who inspire them to greater heights.
The camp environment provides a unique opportunity for youth to build leadership skills, particularly in assisting counselors with younger campers. The goals of CIT and LIT camp programs are to teach the general skills of leadership that can be used at school, home and community (not just at camp.) For younger camp leaders (ages 13-15), the curriculum includes working with younger kids at camp, but often includes community components like volunteering at senior centers or YMCAs. Counselors-in-Training or "CITs" are the oldest campers who typically want to apply for a job at camp the next summer, maybe as a Jr Counselor or some other supporting role. They need to learn more specific skills for working with kids and co-workers, and more experience planning and leading activities. Both programs give kids age-appropriate challenges that build their skills, confidence and capacity for working with people of all ages.
Too many smart and talented young people don’t pursue higher education because they assume it’s out of their reach financially. But federal funds exist to help make a two or four-year college experience a reality. As part of the Y’s work to connect underserved youth to higher education opportunities, Ys offer and participate in College Goal Sunday—a national, volunteer-driven program that culminates in an annual event providing free information and assistance to students and families in applying for financial aid for postsecondary education.
The Y is the starting point for many youth to learn about becoming and staying active, and developing healthy habits they’ll carry with them throughout their lives. And the benefits are far greater than just physical health. Whether it’s gaining the confidence that comes from learning to swim or building the positive relationships that lead to good sportsmanship and teamwork, participating in sports at the Y is about building the whole child, from the inside out.
Swimming is a life skill as well as great exercise and a challenging sport. Ys offer swim lessons (for all ages), family swim, competitive swimming and diving teams, and many kinds of adaptive swim programs for kids with special needs, so we can all enjoy safely enjoy the pleasures of an aquatic environment.
Teen centers, group exercise, triathlon training, dance clubs, skateboarding, arts—there’s a lot more than sports at the Y, giving kids the chance to exert energy, try new things, make new friends … and be kids!
Baseball, soccer, volleyball, flag football, karate, basketball, gymnastics—check out the sports offerings at your Y and get in the game. Improve your skills, make new friends, be active with other kids and learn to love a sport at the Y.
Swimming, diving and gymnastics are the most popular national competitive sports leagues at the Y. The Y hosts state, regional and national championships annually, helping kids value hard work, reach for excellence and enjoy spirited competition.
Overnight, day or specialty camps at the Y share one thing: they’re about discovery. Kids have the opportunity to explore nature, find new talents, try new activities, gain independence, and make lasting friendships and memories. And, of course, it’s fun too.
Camping, like many Y programs, is about learning skills, developing character and making friends. But few environments are as special as camp, where kids become a community as they learn both how to be more independent and how to contribute to a group as they engage in physical, social and educational activities. Camping teaches self-reliance, a love for nature and the outdoors, and the development of attitudes and practices that build character and leadership—all amidst the fun of camp fires, bugle calls, canoeing, archery, talent shows, and meaningful relationships. Y counselors are dedicated to making sure camp is an amazing experience for every camper.
We have more than 130 years of experience in providing a safe, thriving environment for young people to explore personal interests, build self-esteem, develop interpersonal skills, discover the creativity and health benefits of the outdoors, and make lasting friendships and memories.
Ys offer overnight camps that run from a few days to a few weeks in scenic outdoor areas that span from New Hampshire to Hawaii. Camp programs offer a wide variety of outdoor adventures led by trained and experienced leaders who guide children and teenagers in having an unforgettable experience. Expect new and fun activities that will add not only build skills but great new friends and character values for life.
Day camp can offer almost all of the benefits of traditional camp—new experiences, skill building, a sense of community and lasting friendships — in rural and urban settings while allowing campers to return home each afternoon. YMCAs across the nation offer day camps for elementary children and some have offerings for pre-schoolers and teens.
Camping is for everyone, and the Y offers specialty camps that focus on particular programming like teen adventure, music, sports specialties and farm/ranch experiences and for campers with special needs. Youth with developmental disabilities, physical and mental health challenges or other impairments that may require special attention or benefit from like-situated campers have opportunities through the Y.