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YMCA Joliet helps young people turn dreams into reality

Since 2006, the YMCA Joliet Teen Achievers Program has grown in different ways.

“It’s pretty involved,” said Maurice Fears, executive director in teen and young adult advancement at YMCA Joliet. “We’re trying to grow it.”

It is designed to serve as a pathway to college readiness and career exploration for those enrolled as freshman in high school up to age 21.

YMCA Joliet hopes to expand the program over the weekends and during summer months.

There’s a lot of excitement over where the program is going and that it allows the YMCA to open up more possibilities, Fears said. The push to grow the program stems, in part, from a need for more programming for those age 18-21.

“There’s a lot of components and experiences we want to mix in,” Fears said.

Participating in the program typically gives young people access to guest speakers, financial aid workshops, mentors, in-state and out-of-state college tours and more. It currently reaches those at Joliet Central, Joliet West and Plainfield South high schools.

“What YMCA does differently is connecting to and reaching kids,” Fears said. “There are other programs that reach similar groups. We do the best we can to incite positive change.”

Data shows that participants in the Teen Achievers Program complete high school at a rate of 100 percent. It goes on to highlight that seniors advance to the next level in their pathway to college readiness and career exploration at a rate of 92 percent.

“Scores of young people have graduated from college and went on to work in their fields,” Fears said. “Some are in school while working for the YMCA.”

Fears said the success of participating students shown is contingent on several contributing factors.

“It’s a combination of parents, schools and the YMCA,” he said. “I call it, ‘a triangle of influence.’”

Students often will find that a similar message is shared through these various avenues and that it helps them to realize their dreams can become a reality.

In order to participate in the Teen Achievers Program, those interested are assessed a one-time fee of $30 for the school year. A sliding scale adjustment is also available to those in need.

Fears said the YMCA does not turn away young people.

“It’s a mission-minded effort to garner support,” he said. “The funding goes directly to the program.”

Participants in the program meet every week, and every other month YMCA Joliet hosts workshops on various topics, including resume writing, interviews, how to dress for success, emotional maturity, soft skills and more.

The Teen Achievers Program is a YMCA initiative offered all across the nation with origins dating back to the early 1970s.

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