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


Manatee YMCA to offer program for adults with special needs in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton and expand program in Parrish

The Manatee YMCA plans to offer a year-round social and recreational program for adults with special needs and ability levels in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton, and expand the current program in Parrish.

SOAR, or Special Organized Adult Recreation, was started as a pilot program in Parrish in 2016, and took off, currently serving members in Parrish who attend the program two days a week. The program will launch in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton in January of 2018 and is currently accepting applications. The Y hopes to serve more than 80 participants at all three branches.

“Kids with special needs often receive services in the community, but after they turn 21, they have nowhere to turn,” said Pauline Ledsom, director of the SOAR program. “We are hoping to fill that gap. We have had fantastic feedback from current participants in Parrish and there is such a need in Manatee County.”

The newly expanded program will be offered to adults with intellectual, physical and/or emotional disabilities.

“Special needs can range from a senior with Alzheimer’s, to someone with Down syndrome or on the autistic spectrum,” Ledsom said. “We welcome all.”

The program will be offered four hours per day from 12 – 4 p.m. Participants will get to experience field trips, exercise, crafts, socialization, games, swimming, and a packed calendar of activities and events. The cost for the program will be $160 per month for two days a week at any one branch, and $400 for all three branches, 5 days a week. The YMCA does not turn anyone away because of their inability to pay and will be offering scholarships to all participants who qualify.

For more information about the SOAR program, contact Pauline Ledsom at (941) 798-YMCA (9622) ext. 215 or

The Bradenton Herald – YMCA Program for adults with special needs to expand next year


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!