They may not know it, but the 8-12 year old kids attending the Palestine YMCA's Summer Camp are part of something big — the Character Development Learning Institute.
The Palestine Y is one of just 30 clubs nationwide to receive a $10,000 grant from the national YMCA that pays for staffing, training, and supplies for CDLI's pilot program. Nationwide, the YMCA character development program is funded by a 4-year grant from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation.
Nearly 60 kids in Palestine participate in the pilot program. Among other things, it teaches, through questions and games, how to make good decisions and choices, and how to get along with others.
These are big steps for anyone their age that could pay big dividends as adults. For the kids, though, they are just another day of fun.
They like the attention from Rev. Jordan Byrd, pastor at the First Christian Church, who volunteers to teach two groups at the Y twice a week.
Before the activities, Rev. Byrd draws the kids into a circle and asks each one a question: “What is your favorite animal and why?” He waits, listens, and speaks to each kid, pointing out what he likes about each response.
Byrd is not there just to talk, however. He leads the kids in games that teach character lessons. This week's character lesson: Self-control.
The first activity is a race — in slow motion. The kids pair up and take turns racing in front of the group, suppressing their urge to speed up. They laugh and most seem to enjoy the activity.
Rev. Byrd calls them together and asks for examples of self-control. Hailey Nedbalek, 12, answers: “If you find a $100 bill on the sidewalk at school, or at your apartment complex, and you return it to the office.”
The kids are catching on, but to reinforce their learning Byrd starts a new game of Red Light, Green Light, a stop and go activity in which they race from one end of yard to the next.
Miguel Huffines, 10, said he might learn something from the lessons to abate his “anger issues.” “I can try it; I think it would help me.”
Kids are not the only ones learning. Camp counselors are coaching the kids and reinforcing the weekly lessons.
Alyssa Hunt, a counselor with Group 5, discussed her training. A nursing student at the University of Texas at Tyler, Hunt, 22, said the training focused on the kids' stages of development and their fears.
She learned that her role is to listen to the kids, who love to share — and to know that someone is listening.
“A lot of them are going through stuff at home,” Hunt said. We’ve had to know how to comfort them and not be afraid of things, like thunderstorms, or being alone.”
Altogether, 125 kids participate in the Y's summer program. Sherry Gossett, the Y's summer day camp supervisor, said the younger children, ages 5-8, also benefit from the character development program through their counselors.
“Our counselors are growing from it,” Gossett said.
Cindy Piersol, director of the Palestine YMCA, said the Y's 35 summer camp staff and three volunteers are all involved in the CDLI program. She said character development training would become part of the Y's strategic plan and youth programming.