Johnson YMCA Expansion Breaks Ground: Aims To Break Cycle Of Idle Hands

May 14, 2018

The James Weldon Johnson YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville is expanding. Not only will the wellness facility be renovated and receive a new swimming pool, but more importantly said spokespeople, it’s teen program capacity will more than double with the construction of a new teen center.

Currently, the Johnson YMCA serves around 30 to 40 teens a day. That number should rise to 100 once the center is finished.

The teen program at the Johnson Y started in 2015 as a way to provide older kids more than just a place to play sports or workout, said First Coast YMCA Social Responsibility VP and Johnson YMCA Executive Director Irvin Cohen.

“We really, in this community, didn’t have a place where young people who were not athletically inclined could go. You either went to after school programs after the school — which were primarily sports related — [or] until nothing,” he said.

“I mean I think the assumption is that there are job opportunities out there in this community that teens would much rather have. Well, in this community we know that those have been really taken up by adults who are taking care of families,” Cohen said, adding the Y program gives kids with little prospect of finding entry-level work, something constructive to pursue.

Cohen said the program provides teens with experience in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) and includes a Youth in Government Program that helps more bookish young adults find career passions and get into college.

Around 90 percent of the total $3.5 million needed to cover the project’s construction costs were paid for with private donations. Meanwhile, the remaining 10 percent came from state funding that Cohen said would cover programming costs.

The Johnson YMCA is located in Jacksonville’s 32209 zip code, which for the last two years has been ground zero for homicides, reported our Florida Times-Union news partner. Cohen said that makes a program like this that much more impactful.

“We all know in communities like this the consequences of idle hands can be deadly to say the very least,” he said.

Cohen said some teens, especially boys, won’t always have the resources they need to keep them out of trouble and that many avenues to success can be impeded.

Q Ramsey, now a student at St. Leo University, entered the program at 15. He credits it with helping him figure out a career path.

“It really helped me and strengthened me within myself to find my passion for policy and different things. So, I know where I want to go in this world,” he said.

But more than that, Ramsey said the YMCA’s teen program helped him develop long-lasting relationships.

“The teen program gives a sense of family. In that way, you can take what you need to take from that family,” he said.