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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Kids serving community in annual YMCA program

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Jacob Cole, a member of the Southeast Missouri YMCA Counselor in Training program, picks up trash along the bank of the Sikeston Sports Complex lake.
SIKESTON -- Counselors in Training with the YMCA of Southeast Missouri described their experience picking up trash along the Sikeston Sports Complex lake as "gross" and "smelly" Monday morning.

"It was very hard and gross, but at the end it was rewarding," said Brian Lasley, 12, adding dead fish, turtle bones and aluminum cans were among their findings.

But all the sweat and hard work paid off -- and a lesson was learned by all.

"If we litter, someone else has to pick it up," Lasley noted. And it could hurt animals, pointed out 13-year-old Brittany Axelson.

For the next nine weeks, approximately 15 tweens will spend their time giving back to the community as part of the YMCA of Southeast Missouri's Day Camp for kids going into the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Participants of the program are called "Counselors in Training," or CITs.

"We're trying to teach responsibility since the older camp kids can set an example for the younger kids," explained Lori Bunting, CIT coordinator for the YMCA of Southeast Missouri.

With an emphasis placed on community service, CITs will do several community service projects over the summer and will hear from guest speakers in the community.

"It's really goal-oriented," Bunting said about the CIT program. "The purpose of doing community service projects as a group is, hopefully, that the kids will go out either on their own or with a family and talk about getting involved with helping the community."

Throughout the month Bunting has arranged for the CITs to serve a meal at the Soup Kitchen and Sikeston Senior Center. They will also serve a block by distributing lunch for Meals on Wheels.

In addition to the community service, CITs run the concession stand at the Sikeston Jaycee pool, working in 45-minute shifts. Money made over the 10-week period is used for a field trip at the end of the summer.

Although responsibility is involved with being a CIT, there is also time for fun. Throughout the course of the day, CITs can hang out at the pool and the Teen Center, a room with computers and games.

It's in the Teen Center, where CITs also engage in group activities emphasizing teamwork, Bunting said. For example, the CITs split into groups to brainstorm about a community service project they can do this summer, she said.

Since Bunting has most of the projects planned for the summer, she thought it would be good for the CITs to create one themselves. This way they have responsibilities to plan their own project, Bunting said.

"Having this program teaches them as members of the community to be responsible," Bunting explained. "This morning when we came back from picking up trash, we reflected on what we did and talked about how gross it was to pick up trash, but I also made the point that by doing these things we are setting a good example."

For first-time CIT, Lasley, who has attended the YMCA Day Camp for years, being a CIT is really fun and rewarding, he said.

"Personally, I like being a CIT better than being in the regular camp (for children in grades K-5)," Lasley said. "In the regular program, it was more like we were being babysitted, and we were doing artsy crafts and stuff. I think kids in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades lose interest in that."

In his last year as a CIT -- he'll start eighth grade in the fall --Dakota Trevino, 13, has picked up on a couple specifics of being a CIT.

"The big thing is to respect others and to listen to what everybody has to say," Trevino said. "And for parents who don't have a place for their kids in the summer, it's a real good place to do a lot of stuff and to keep busy."

Bunting pointed out the four character values of the YMCA -- respect, responsibility, caring and honesty -- are also incorporated into the CIT program.

Although it's only been a week since camp started, new CIT Jessica Hutchcraft, 11, seems to be getting the idea of what being a counselor in training is truly about. She said: "The community does a lot for you so you should give back to them."