Tampa Bay Lightning brings hockey to Manatee YMCA summer camp

by Emily Wunderlich

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.


Manatee YMCA closes summer learning gap and gives boost to local kids

Summer reading program,  free camp for low income students, and middle school leadership camps offered at the Manatee YMCA

While kids in Manatee County are gearing up for a summer of fun, they are also at risk of falling behind in school due to a loss of learning during the summer months.

The Manatee YMCA is attempting to close that summer learning gap with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading program during summer camp at each of its three branch locations, and the new Camp DASH, a free summer camp for children at Harllee Middle School.

Studies show that summer learning programs set children up for success in school and life, but many learning programs can be expensive and unavailable to low income, minority students.

Working with the Suncoast Summer Reading program and a grant from the Paterson Foundation, kids at the Y’s summer camps in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, Parrish, and at Camp DASH will read books available at each grade level for 30 minutes each day and do activities based on the books.  Activities may include games, arts and crafts, or discussions.

“Children can lose between one and two months or more of reading skills over the summer, and the number is higher for low-income kids,” said Sean Allison, CEO of the Manatee YMCA. “If this continues, kids can wind up two years behind by the end of sixth grade.  Our goal is to have the kids read at least five hours a week during the summer to keep them from regressing.”

The Y is also helping low-income children in Manatee County by offering a free summer camp from June 6 to July 27, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Harllee Middle School.  Camp DASH will be filled with programs focused on sports, games, STEM, reading, arts, character development, and community service.  Breakfast and lunch are both provided at the camp, which is for students entering 1st through 8th grades.

Camp DASH is funded by a grant from the Manatee Community Foundation and is currently accepting campers.

To help students out East in another important way, the Lakewood Ranch YMCA is kicking off its new Middle School Leadership camp, in partnership with Harvest Methodist Church. Campers will learn how to navigate common challenges, ask questions, and get advice during an important time of growth and change.  Camp topics include “What’s Important to Me,” “Team Work,” “My Success Plan,” “Leadership and Character Development,” and “Leadership and Goal Setting.” Each week-long, 3-hour camp is interactive and full of activities to keep students engaged.

For more information about the Y’s camp opportunities, visit manateeymca.org or call (941) 798-9622.

The Bradenton Herald – Tampa Bay Lightning brings street hockey to summer camp


Coaltion formed to help children succeed in Manatee County

by Ryan McKinnon, Herald-Tribune

Representatives from nearly every major nonprofit, government agency or foundation working with children in Manatee County gathered last week to continue a conversation about how they can collaborate to help kids succeed.

“It’s really exciting,” said Cindy Cavallaro-Day, who is the United Way Suncoast’s Director for Grade-Level Reading Strategies in Manatee. “The big picture for Manatee County is to truly work in unison sharing resources.”

Too often agencies end up competing for the same dollars or duplicating services, said Cavallaro-Day, who led the meeting Monday afternoon at the United Way Suncoast Office in Lakewood Ranch. Plus, corporate donors might be more likely to give to a consortium of agencies, rather than having to pick and choose.

The National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has encouraged local branches to see themselves as just one piece of the puzzle. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has partnered with many agencies and organizations throughout Manatee and Sarasota counties with programs ranging from providing dental sealants to children to offering books and resources to families in public housing.

Beth Duda, the director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading said collaboration is always harder than working individually, but it yields greater results.

“Communities that have seen the most progress are really looking at networking and collaboration and the knowledge that no one agency and no one program will make the difference,” Duda said.

The groups involved include the School District of Manatee County, Suncoast United Way, The Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the Boys and Girls Club of Manatee County, the Manatee Community Foundation, Manatee County Libraries, the YMCA of Manatee County, the Patterson Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Suncoast, the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, Forty Carrots Family Center and the Manatee Community Action Agency.

“Everything we do supports the school district,” Cavallaro-Day said. “Think of them as the nucleus.”

Leaders brainstormed Monday about establishing a one-stop shop summer program for children in some of the county’s poorest communities.

Sean Allison, CEO of the YMCA of Manatee County, envisioned a program where children could — in one day and one place — exercise with the YMCA, get financial literacy training from the Boys and Girls Club and work on their reading skills with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

“A multi-agency approach could make a huge impact,” Allison said in an email.

The Herald-Tribune – Coalition formed to help children succeed in Manatee County



Have You Heard? The Manatee YMCA Nifty Thrift Shop has opened in Palmetto, and we need your donations!

Drop off your used items to any of our 3 branch locations in Lakewood Ranch, Parrish and Bradenton. Items may include clothing, furniture, toys, kitchenware, sporting equipment, books, electronics, tools, and art. Pick-up and delivery services are available in Manatee County for large items.

All proceeds from the store will be used to support families and children by providing programs and services at the Y such as gang prevention, mentoring and leadership, summer/day camp, safe places before and after school, services for veterans, and other health and wellness services.

The Nifty Thrift Shop also supports victims of disaster.  If you know anyone who needs help from flooding or other disasters in Manatee County or if you need a large item picked up for donation, please contact the store at (941) 212-4652.

You can also support this effort by visiting the Manatee YMCA Nifty Thrift Shop for all of your shopping needs. The store is located at 627 10th Street East in Palmetto, across from Walmart and behind McDonalds.

Thank you for your donations in support of the Y!


News Articles About the Thrift Shop

SNN6 – Manatee YMCA opens Thrift Store to benefit community 



Alexis Grella, 14, and Megan Citera-Juarez, 11, have been a part of the Olympic Weightlifting Club at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA for less than a year, but their hard work during that time earned them qualifications for the 2017 Youth National Championships for USA Weightlifting in Atlanta, Georgia.

The girls have worked with their Weightlifting coach, Paul Harris, to excel in their age and weight classes in the clean and jerk, snatch, and the total for both.

“The National event is a stepping stone to the IWF Youth World Championship,” Harris said.  “There is a really good chance that one or both of these girls could come back as a National Champion.  They are exceptional kids.”

The Olympic Weightlifting Club at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA currently has 12 competitors, 9 of them under the age of 18, who work with Harris for three days a week to push their limits in weightlifting. Harris has been power lifting for more than 25 years, and started coaching about five years ago.  He tries to teach his athletes that the sport is as much mental as it is physical.

“It’s a great sport to be involved with,” he said.  “There are opportunities for these kids to get college scholarships someday, and I believe they can get there.”

The Olympic Weightlifting program has room to grow, and the kids are currently planning fundraisers to buy new equipment and support the trip to Nationals. The Club meets Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m., and is open to all ages.  The fee for members is $40/month for members and $65/month for nonmembers.


Andrew denBoggende, a Boy Scout in Manatee County, earned his Eagle Scout wings in part by designing and building a Ga-ga Pit for the Manatee YMCA. Eagle Scout is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting program, and only four percent of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process.

Ga-ga is a variant of dodgeball that is played with one ball. The game combines dodging, striking, running, and jumping, with the object of being the last person standing. The Manatee YMCA will be able to use the Ga-ga pit at Healthy Kids Day, summer camp, and other events that support the community.

Andrew chose the YMCA for his service because the mission and values align with what he learned and practices in Boy Scouts.

Thank you Andrew for this awesome gift!


The Manatee YMCA is partnering with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chase Bank to provide street and ice hockey lessons to kids in our YDASH before and after school program.

Last year, the Lightning provided kids from 3 of our middle schools with street hockey lessons after school. This year, kids from Buffalo Creek Middle School will take the skills they learned from street hockey and apply them to the ice for a free 13 week ice hockey lesson program at Ellenton Ice Rink. YDASH kids from 3 new schools, Haile Middle, Braden River Middle, and Nolan Middle, will start street hockey lessons and will hope to advance to the ice hockey program next year.

The Lightning and Chase Bank will provide all equipment and give a stick and puck to each child. What a great opportunity for our YDASH kids!