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City of Charlotte announces $2M partnership with YMCA of Greater Charlotte to revive Level Up program

Charlotte mayor Vi Lyles noted the six branches getting this funding are located along the city's "Corridors of Opportunity".

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leaders with the City of Charlotte announced a $2 million partnership with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte on Thursday to bring back the Level Up program for teens to six YMCA branches.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles opened up comments at the Simmons YMCA, located along Democracy Drive, as a large cardboard check was set up behind her. Lyles said the program would remain free for participants and include meals and activities.

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Lyles, who recounted her time growing up with YMCA programs in Columbia, South Carolina, said she always knew she wanted to give back to the same place where she learned to dance. She noted the six branches that will benefit from the partnership are all located along the city's "Corridors of Opportunity", aimed at providing teens a safe hangout space for the summer.

The YMCA locations that will receive funding are the Johnston YMCA, Keith Family YMCA, McCrorey Family YMCA, Simmons YMCA, Steele Creek YMCA, and Stratford Richardson YMCA.

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City councilman Matt Newton of District 5 took the mic next. The Simmons YMCA is in his district, and he also offered his own story of growing up with programs at the Y. Newton said he learned how to swim and play basketball with the YMCA, and urged families to get their teens into the Level Up program.

At-large councilwoman Dimple Ajmera applauded the announcement and noted her whole family are members of the YMCA. District 1 councilman Larken Egleston also had experience with the Y growing up in Winston-Salem, joking how both he and NBA star Chris Paul hit the court there, although only Paul went pro.

Stan Law, the CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, took the mic after Egleston. He thanked Lyles and the council members for the investment and said he was still awestruck about the opportunity to bring back the Level Up program.

Law said the needs along the Corridors are great, but said bringing back the Level Up program will help meet those needs.

The funding from the City of Charlotte will help teens take advantage of educational resources beyond the classroom over the summer. 

“Unfortunately, we know that the education statistics have been impacted because of COVID," Law said. "Virtual learning was there, but it doesn’t make the kind of impact of in-person. So, we will focus on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math—in terms of a curriculum and really expose kids in a non-traditional academic setting.”

Law said the YMCA of Greater Charlotte is also focused on providing mental health resources to teens this summer as they deal with the struggles from the pandemic. 

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"Unfortunately, the pandemic has really impacted people’s lives in a lot of different ways," Law said, "and we want to offer that not only to the teens but also their families as well.”

David Sandy, now a YMCA of Greater Charlotte team member, shared his experience taking part in the Level Up program as a teen. 

Sandy said the program provided a safe place for him to go as a teen and take part in activities, such as arts and crafts, basketball, swimming, and more. 

“We had group conversations, we did 3D printing," Sandy said. "We did a lot, like anything to bring the community together to like get people out of the house, and it created a safe place, you know, for the kids. I mean, for us.”

Sandy said he now sees the difference the program can make in the lives of teens because of the impact the activities had on his life.

“I gained more social skills," Sandy said. "I gained more, you know, I started to become more active.”

Contact Kendall Morris at kmorris2@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.