If you’ve seen the brightly colored Y on the Fly van on the roads, it’s full of equipment, staff and volunteers taking games, educational opportunities and activities to underserved children in the six coastal counties.
Jodi Ryder, community impact director at the Mississippi Gulf Coast YMCA, is hoping Y on the Fly will show children just how fun being healthy and learning can really be. “We’re bringing services that these kids would not normally be able to access,” she said. Since the program started in June, Y on the Fly has served over 1,200 children at approximately 40 different locations.
Ryder and her team have held events at Head Start programs, churches, local libraries and different summer camp programs. Recently, they have been working with affordable housing complexes and are hoping to expand to include events at alternative schools as well.
The YMCA has long been an advocate for water safety, teaching thousands of children to swim in their pools. The Y on the Fly is also advocating water safety as part of its program. “It’s little things around the water that can be lifesaving for children,” adds Ryder. They instruct students on proper fitting of life jackets, how to extend a hand, lifesaver or pool noodle if someone needs help and also talk about other ways to prevent accidental drowning.
Games and activities are a vital part of the program, encouraging movement but most importantly fun. “It’s not your normal PE activities,” said Ryder. “We keep them busy with obstacle courses, different games with balls, agility ladders, and parachutes.”
STEM education is another component of Y on the Fly. Retired teachers and volunteers have been essential in helping teach students about different scientific principles. They’ve used catapults to illustrate physics, made boats out of aluminum foil to test buoyancy and even made slime to teach children about chemistry.
Y on the Fly is more than just the name of the van that travels to different locations, it’s the mantra of the team. “As space and circumstances change at various locations, we have to be flexible and adaptive,” adds Ryder.
The program was initially funded through donations from Lemon Mohler Insurance and Blossman Gas. Working diligently to find more needs and address them, Ryder hopes to expand the program into new areas and eventually add a reading element to help students with comprehension and maybe even leave the program with a new book.
The program can also use volunteers who enjoy working with children, including retired teachers or fitness instructors. Sponsorships are available for anyone wishing to help grow and expand this program. For more information about the program and scheduling options, Ryder can be contacted at [email protected] or 228-875-5050.