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Posts published in July 2012

Northeast YMCA is a community asset

By Christine Nguyen

It’s a building that’s almost impossible to find, nestled literally on the offshoot of a long and winding road, but somehow the Northeast Family YMCA has become an indispensable part of the North Forest community.

“The YMCA plays a big role [in these people’s lives],” day camp director Jared Hale said. “We cater to the children, but we have senior citizens who love the program. We have teens that love the program. We have people who are involved in the program and don’t even know… Whether they know it or not, they’re contributing to the YMCA and we’re contributing back to the community.

Walk into the Northeast Family YMCA on any given day and you’re likely to find community members of all ages, from toddlers to seniors. Currently, the Northeast Y has 330 memberships, which means that an average number of 1,000 or more individuals pass through the building each month.

Community Executive Director Demetta Landry says the Y prides itself on being a place easily accessible to anyone.

“There are kids here whose parents came to this Y when they were growing up.” Landry said. “We’re here to take care of their kids just like we took care of them. They trust us. And with the seniors, they know they can come here, get some good exercise … and do stuff, instead of just staying at home.”

The Northeast Y offers a variety of programs and classes, ranging from swim lessons and sports for the youth to aerobics and line dancing for adults. The building itself houses a number of facilities including an outdoor pool, a multi-purpose gym, two fitness centers and a playroom.

During the summer, the Y offers a day camp for young teens and kids as young as 3 years old, which Landry says is immensely helpful for parents who may have to work during the daytime and need a “safe place” for their kids.

The Northeast Y isn’t only focused on accessibility in terms of age either. Although the Y relies heavily on membership and class fees, Landry says it is constantly seeking out new sources of funding to be able to provide financial assistance to those in need, whether it’s through United Way dollars or the Y Partners Campaign.

The Partners Campaign works to raise money from board members, benefactors, Y members and staff to allow everyone to participate in the Y, even those who can’t afford the membership.

“It’s all money that we pretty much raise ourselves to keep us going,” Landry said. “Our rates are based on what our community can afford, so we work really hard to try to raise as much as we can because there’s a great need in our community.”

Currently, through the Partners Campaign, the Northeast Y does apartment outreach at Haverstock Hills Apartments, which was once considered the most dangerous complex in the Houston area. Through the program, the Y provides a variety of sports and enrichment activities to more than 700 youth who live in the complex.

But for Landry, who has worked at the Northeast Family YMCA for almost 28 years, this relationship isn’t a one-way street. She says the community has changed her life just as much as the Y has changed theirs.

“I’ve never really wanted to work anywhere else,” Landry said. “I believe in the mission, and I love this community. It’s my family.”

Brutal robberies continue at North Forest’s Commons of Grace apartments

Only weeks after a series of robberies and threats to elderly residents occured at the Commons of Grace apartments on Tidwell Road, Houston Police and Channel 2 News have reported another brutal attack and robbery of a resident.

This follows promises by management of increased surveillance and more security guards for the complex, as well as changes in locks and gates.

In the most recent incident of crime, it is alleged that four men accosted an elderly man, Percy Gipson, as he returned from work at 3:30 am on Friday July 27. He was allegedly attacked with a hammer in the hallway of his apartment building, beaten and robbed of his wallet, keys and a gun.

According to his grandson, Damil Gipson, visiting his grandfather at Memorial Hermann Hospital emergency room, Gipson suffered a fractured skull and was bleeding from the brain.

Regional property manager for NPR, the manager of the apartment complex, Maritza Miranda told Channel 2 that they are Òbeefing up the patrolÓ and working with authorities to stop the crimes. She said they have surveillance video that may show the perpetrators of the attack, and this has been given to the police.

Aldine ISD alumni Griner visits the White House

WASHINGTON – Baylor University undefeated women’s basketball team and NCAA champions celebrated their achievements at the White House last Wednesday.

President Barack Obama congratulated the team on scoring more points than any team in women’s college basketball history and recognized the players for their contributions both on the court and in the community.

The girls were honored for academic achievements as well as their volunteer work, reading to elementary school students, serving the homeless and other humanitarian work in Kenya.

Obama singled out center and Aldine ISD alumni Brittney Griner. Griner, a three-time All-American, was recently named Female Athlete of the Year by ESPN.

“This young woman is the new face of women’s basketball,” the president said. “She blocks shots, she rebounds, she’s got the jump hook, she’s got the dunk.”

Obama also commended Lady Bears Coach Kim Mulkey and the team’s seniors for being role models for his two young daughters and girls everywhere. He noted that the Bears were a shoe-in to be a favorite on his bracket next year.

Optimists meet new Chicken Club AISD coordinator

Chicken Club is an anti-drug program in the Aldine schools, aimed at the fourth grade level student. It is a project supported by the school district and the Aldine Noon Optimist Club.

The Aldine program was started about 10 years ago, and involves about 5000 fourth grade students in the AISD schools every year.

The outstanding feature of the program is a yellow tee-shirt each student gets, proclaiming their desire to avoid drugs. This works because it relies on “reverse peer pressure,” according to Optimist president Steve Mead.

With the retirement last year of long-time program coordinator Clarence Johnson, this responsibility has been assumed by AISD Assistant Superintendent for Administration Ken Knippel.

Knippel was on hand at last week’s Optimist’s luncheon, to thank the club for their support and assure them he will continue the program with enthusiasm and help from his counselor staff at each school.

Knippel has been with Aldine ISD all his 26 year career, first as a teacher and coach, then 7 years as an assistant principal and 13 years as a principal.

Mead, who is also an AISD school board member, explained that

“Chicken” stands for:

C – Cool

H – Honest

I – Intelligent

C – Clear Headed

K – Keen

E – Energetic

N – Not interested in Drugs.

All of these values are part of the commitment that the fourth graders make when they join the program.

The anti-drug program is similar to the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program offered to fifth graders.

Recognizing the influence of peer pressure on students to take drugs, the CHICKEN Club uses the same technique in reverse. Through positive peer pressure, students are empowered to “just say no.”

The club was founded by the Optimist Club in Phoenix, Ariz., and tailored for use in Texas districts by the La Marque Independent School District.

The Aldine Optimist Club was instrumental in bringing the program to the schools and has been an active supporter since its inception.

Aldine ISD Trustees honor former Nimitz High softball coach Irene Hopkins

For 33 years, Irene Hopkins dedicated herself to the students and athletes at Nimitz High School serving as a teacher and coach at the Aldine ISD school.

She started the softball program at the school and served as its only head coach until her retirement in December of 2011. She was one of the most respected softball coaches in the Houston-area during her tenure and cherished teaching the sport she loved to the many players that passed through the program over the last 33 years.

Although she is no longer a part of the program, her name will forever be linked to the softball program at Nimitz High School and in the district as well thanks to action taken by the Aldine ISD Board of Trustees at their July 17 Board meeting.

On that night, Aldine’s Trustees unanimously voted to rename the softball field at Nimitz High School after Irene Hopkins and in addition, the district’s annual Varsity Invitational Softball Tournament will also bear her name beginning with the 2013 event.

Hopkins, who served as a teacher and coach for 43 years in Aldine, began her teaching/coaching career in 1969 at Aldine Junior High (now Aldine Middle School). She transferred to Nimitz High School in 1978 and was part of the original staff that opened the building. When she retired, she was the last original member of the staff that opened the school in 1978.

She was known among her peers as a pioneer and when she retired she was the longest serving coach in the history of Aldine ISD.

Irene not only shared her knowledge of the game with her players, but she also gave of her personnel time and resources to keep the softball field at Nimitz in the best condition possible for her teams to play and practice on. As a matter of fact, she loved coaching so much that for the first seven years of her tenure, she volunteered as the team’s coach without pay.

In addition to coaching softball, Irene also coached basketball, track and volleyball and served as a health teacher.

Nimitz High principal Alex Jordan, who worked with Irene for more than 20 years, said she was most deserving of the honor the Aldine Board bestowed upon her during their July meeting.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person for such a wonderful honor,” Jordan said. “It has been a pleasure to be a colleague of Irene for more than 20 years. She embodies all of the characteristics that professional educators should possess.

“Her commitment to excellence, love for students, rigorous standards, patience and support for all will be missed by Nimitz High School and Aldine ISD. Coach Hopkins was a role model for all students. She believed in both processes and people with little tolerance for anyone who failed to work hard each and every day. I am a better man and a better principal for having known her.”

During her 33 years at Nimitz High, many of her former students and players received scholarships and went on to become coaches themselves. Her peers honored her during the 2008-09 school year when they voted her Nimitz High’s Teacher of the Year.

The recommendation to rename the softball field at Nimitz High was made by Trustee Steve Mead, who chairs the Board’s school names committee. He was joined on the committee by fellow Trustees Dr. Viola M. Garcia and Rose Avalos.

HISD graduation rate rises, drop outs decline

By Christine Nguyen

The Houston Independent School District’s graduation rate has risen for the 4th consecutive year, while the dropout rate hit a record low, the district reported Monday.

The Class of 2011 graduation rate reached 78.5 percent, while the dropout rate fell to 11.8 percent, the best figures HISD has seen under the accountability system put into place in 2007, according to preliminary figures released by the Texas Education Agency.

The figures have improved from a 64.3 percent graduation rate and a 22.1 dropout rate for the Class of 2007.

The district credits the improvements, in part, to Grad Lab, an online program that allows students to make up credits at their own pace, and other dropout prevention efforts, which include assigning student case workers to “at-risk” students and a computer-based warning program that uses student data to track students who show signs of becoming dropouts.

“The Board of Education and administration come up with the initiatives to drive student achievement,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said in a press release. “But it takes strong professional educators in the schools and classrooms to make these plans work and produce the kinds of results we are seeing.”

Although TEA has not released statewide averages for the Class of 2011, HISD has consistently trailed state averages for graduation rates. Likewise, the district’s dropout rate is far from reaching state averages. According to the TEA, the Class of 2010 state graduation rate for high schoolers was 84.3 percent, while the dropout rate was 2.4 percent.

HISD’s neighboring school districts, which include Aldine ISD and North Forest ISD, have yet to release their recent stats.

North Forest ISD was rated “Academically Unacceptable” in 2009 by TEA and, after being scheduled to close in 2012, was given another year to improve its finances and 2009 59 percent graduation rate.

Aldine ISD’s 2010 data showed that its graduation rate had improved from 69.2 percent in 2009 to 71.4 percent in 2010, an improvement, but still significantly below state averages.

“We all know the dropout rate remains a critical problem in our city, but we are making strong progress,” HISD Board President Michael Lunceford said in the release. “The students, with help from the school administrators and teachers, have made a concerted effort to stem the tide of dropouts.”

Although having stats below state averages, Houston public schools tend to have a larger portion of students who are low-income and minority students, and have been recognized for their achievements in educating this student demographic.

This year, HISD is a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education and will find out in October if it wins.

HISD secondary schools in the Northeast News coverage area include: Houston High School, 9400 Irvington 77076, Henry Middle School, 10702 E. Hardy 77093, and Fonville Middle School, 725 E. Little York 77076.

Upcoming events at Jones Park

Hunter Education Certification. Tuesday and Wednesday, August 7 & 8, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

This two-day course meets the mandated Texas Parks & Wildlife hunter education requirements for Texas. A $15 fee is required for materials. Ages 9+. Reservations required beginning Monday, July 30.

Homestead Fun: Second Saturday Settlers. Saturday, August 11, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Sample watermelon and homemade ice cream, play horseshoes and other old-fashioned games while viewing hands-on daily activities of Texas settlers that bring the Redbud Hill Homestead to life. All ages. Free.

Stargazing. Saturday, August 11, 8 p.m.

Encounter planets, stars, and other celestial bodies from a vantage point free from light pollution with the help of the North Houston Astronomy Club. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars or a telescope. All ages. Reservations required beginning Wednesday, August 1. Free

Second Sunday Pickers. Sunday, August 12, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Sing or strum along with the Second Sunday Pickers as they enliven second Sunday afternoons in the nature center. Bring an instrument and join in or sit back and let them entertain you. All ages. Free.

Trails À La Cart. Saturday, August 18, 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.

Explore the Spring Creek Greenway Trail on a cart tour designed especially for people with disabilities and focusing on the park’s natural history and beauty. Ages 55+ or persons with disabilities. Reservations required beginning Wednesday, August 8. Free.

Wildlife Rehabilitation. Saturday, August 25, 10 a.m.

Helping injured and orphaned animals can be challenging in urban neighborhoods. As licensed wildlife rehabilitators from the Wildlife Center of Texas introduce several “animal ambassadors” for education, learn how to render aid and coexist with wildlife. All ages. Free.

Scavenger Hunt. Saturday, September 1, 10 a.m.

Join this nature discovery outing perfect for young nature hunters, families, and scout groups. Ages 5-15. Reservations required beginning Wednesday, August 22. Free.

Tadpoles Club. Wednesdays, September 5, 12, 19 and 26, 10:30 a.m. or 1 p.m.

Introduce pre-school children to nature with live animals, puppets, short walks, crafts, stories, and finger plays. Parent must accompany child for this four-week interactive program. Ages 3 and 4 only. Sorry, no siblings. Reservations required beginning Wednesday, August 1. Free.

Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center, a Harris County Precinct 4 facility under the leadership of Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, is located at 20634 Kenswick Drive in Humble. All programs are free of charge and open to the public. Jesse Jones Park Volunteers (JJPV) welcomes applications from interested participants. For more information on the park or any of its programs, call (281) 446-8588 or visit the Jones Park Web site at

Rosen or Vara-Leija for Precinct 1 Constable, decision day is July 31

By Christine Nguyen

With former Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia out of the picture and facing federal corruption charges, candidates Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will square off in the upcoming primary run-off with the task of restoring integrity to the office if elected in November.

After a close race in the May primary election, both candidates are gearing up for an even closer run-off election which will take place July 31. The May primary saw six democratic candidates compete to face the only Republican candidate, Joe Danna, in the November general election.

Vara-Leija received 23.78 percent of the total with 3,512 votes, trailing Rosen who received 27.96 percent of the total with 4,130 votes.

“This is an election that’s going to be decided on very few votes — probably less than a hundred,” Vara-Leija said.

While the candidates have their unique priorities, both expressed a paramount need to bring integrity and accountability to the

Constable’s office with ethics training for the entire staff, and a similar need to end the culture of pressure and intimidation that ran rampant under the Abercia era.

Rosen and Vara-Leija have gathered strong endorsements for the position with Vara-Leija gaining support from the Houston Chronicle among others, and Rosen from three of the four other Precinct 1 Constable candidates among others.

Alan Rosen

Rosen has 21 years of law enforcement experience and is currently a major and commander of the Special Operations Bureau in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Out of those 21 years, Rosen has spent 12 years working in the Constable’s office, with four of those years spent in Precinct 1.

He has a degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Houston.

“I’ve served in every capacity of law enforcement that you can, with the exception of homicide,” Rosen said. “I’m the only candidate in the race that has patrol experience. I’m the only candidate in the race that has a college degree.”

If elected, Rosen said one of his main focuses will be implementing a “stringent code of ethics” and providing training in multiple areas for the entire staff.

“For instance, in the mental health warrant division, there’s no requirement in the constable’s office presently that they have crisis intervention training,” Rosen said. “[Training] would be a prerequisite for going to work in the mental warrant division under my leadership.”

Rosen said he plans to hold a public forum every quarter and send out newsletters to encourage transparency within the Constable’s office. His other areas plans include integrating the Houston Police Department and Constable’s office radio systems and bringing the Constable’s office up to date technologically.

To deal with budget constraints, Rosen said he will recruiting and utilizing peace officers to expand the workforce and increase law-enforcement presence at zero cost.

Rosen himself has drawn criticism himself for not explicitly disclosing that he works as a reserve officer and that he has spent the majority of his career as a reserve, although Rosen said this is only indicative of his dedication.

“I think that says I’m the most committed person to doing this practice,” Rosen said. “In criminal warrants, under my leadership, they went up 184 percent. We have an 84 percent capture rate in the child predator apprehension team. These are things I’ve done and I’m not getting paid for it.”

According to the HCSO website, reserve deputies are part-time officers who “have the same training, legal authority and responsibilities as full-time HCSO deputies, except that they volunteer their services and are not monetarily compensated.”

As an “outsider,” as he refers to himself, Rosen said he will use his experience at the Sheriff’s office to “bring fresh ideas” to the Constable’s office.

Cindy Vara-Leija

Vara-Leija said one of her main priorities if elected Constable would be to reassess and restructure the department to see where employees fit the best need, particularly in light of tighter budgets.

“We have to look at the department from the top to the bottom to see where our resources are going,” Vara-Leija said. “That’s exactly why I need to go back because I know exactly who does what and how they do it and where they best fit.”

Having worked in the Constable’s office for more than 28 years, Vara-Leija emphasized her experience as vital to the role of Constable. Vara-Leija, who is currently retired, started as a deputy in Precinct 1 before becoming a sergeant, and later being promoted to Captain.

“I have been a full-time professional since I first completed the Sheriff’s academy in the late 70s,” Vara-Leija said. “I worked as a deputy in the mental warrant division. I worked in the juvenile division. I worked criminal warrants. I worked civil warrants… There will be no learning curve for me.”

Her other points of focus would include creating a citizen’s advisory council to bolster communication between the community and the Constable’s office, increasing collaboration between different law enforcement agencies, and hiring more diverse, qualified employees to reflect the Precinct 1 population.

Although her tenure under Abercia has drawn criticism from weary voters, Vara-Leija, who retired months before Abercia stepped down, said she was never privy to any of the conversations revolving the alleged abuses under the former Constable.

Her experience as an “insider” in the Constable’s office has gained her support. According to the Houston Chronicle endorsement, “Vara-Leija, in particular, has been on the inside, and understands the urgency of changing this system.”

“I’ve seen the way it was done in the past, knowing that is wasn’t right, but as just a sergeant, or a captain or deputy, my voice didn’t carry,” she said. “But [as Constable] I would be in a position to change things, to make it a premiere law enforcement agency.”

Early voting begins on Monday, July 23.

For more information on the candidates’ campaigns, check out their websites at: and

Greens Bayou CC Parks and Trails Plan completed

NORTHEAST – Jill Boullion, Executive Director of the Greens Bayou Corridor Coalition, has released the final report on plans for parks and Trails along the full length of the Bayou.

Residents of the Aldine and North Forest areas, as well as most of the North Houston/Greenspoint neighborhoods, will benefit from a myriad of parks and recreational features that will be built along the bayou, according to Boullion, who spoke at a recent East Aldine District luncheon. However, she emphasized that this plan must be implemented with funding that has not yet been achieved in many of the cases.

The Master Plan is a joint partnership of the Coalition, and the National Park Service.

Goals and objectives of the Master Plan are Conservation, Developed Parks & Recreation, Connectivity, Landscaping, and Sustainability, according to the plan document.

With reference to numbers on the map, the following projects are in the plan in the NORTH REACH/ALDINE AREA:

2. Lauder Basin Park and Trails, A 100+ acre wooded site, suitable for recreational improvements for sports, trails and more.

3. Glen Forest Basin Nature Park, a 165 acre HCFCD flood detention basin currently under construction.

9. Aldine Westfield Basin Natural Area and Recreation Park, a HCFCD flood detention basin of 110 acres.

12. Kuykendahl Basin Park, a 300 acre detention basin suitable for recreation and a trail linked to the main bayou.

13. Cypress Creek Trail Foxwood Segment, a greenway trail with a missing 2 mile segment.

14. Greens Crossing Park, an 8 acre wooded site near Gears Loop and West Greens Road, owned by Greenspoint District, could be developed with trails and quiet areas.

20. Hollister Basin Park, 213 acre site for HCFCD detention, and trails, recreation, and a dog park. East of Cutten Road.

22. Aldine ISD Greens Bayou Outdoor Learning Center, a wooded 10 acre site good for outdoor learning and environmental stewardship, near 3 schools.

23. North Fork Trail, a 6.5 mile trail along Greens Bayou would provide safe crossing under I-45 and to nearby Spring Skate Park.

25. North Belt Park, 42 acres of wooded property at Aldine Bender and the bayou.

27. Northgate Recreational Area and Community Center, 8 acres between Northchase and Benmar, now a site of a waste water treatment plant that will be abandoned, could include a community room classrooms, a gym, and soccer field.

29. Lauder Basin to Keith Wiess Park Trail, a proposed 1 mile trail.

31. North Reach Extension Trail, 1.5 mile trail from Knobcrest to Gears Road to connect with the Glen Forest detention basin.

32. Beltway 8 Crossing Trail.

33. West hardy Road Trail, from Bradfield Park to West Hardy and then to Ida Gaye Gardens.

35. Northborough Trailhead Park, 17 acres that could be a trailhead park.

37. Turkey Creek Trail.

The following projects are in the plan in the EAST REACH/NORTH FOREST AREA:

1. Greens Thicket Wilderness Park, 1300 acres owned by Harris County Flood Control, possible wilderness park.

4. Greens Bayou Wetland Mitigation Bank Education Program, 1400 acres suitable for educational programs about wetland.

7. Parkway Trail Extension, near Sheldon Reservoir to extend an existing 3.5 mile trail.

8. Greens Bayou Trail from Green River road to North Lake Houston Parkway.

11. Brock Park Expansion along Halls Bayou, expansion of Brock Park’s 300 acres to a 600 acre nature park.

18. Carpenters Bayou Nature Trail, from Sheldon Lake State Park to Summerwood, to Lake Houston.

24. Summerwood Trail, a 2.5 mile connecting trail.

39. Upper Sheldon Natural Area & Trail, a 400 acre TPWD scenic area along Carpenters Bayou.

Many of the above projects, and the others in the West and South Reach, require further funding and planning to become a reality, but this Master Plan provides a framework for that future set of goals.

A number of projects on and near Greens Bayou are in various stages of development. Following it a list of some of these that have planning, engineering or construction work underway:

Jersey Village Detention Basin, West Reach. A 43 acre detention basin along White Oak Bayou.

Greens Bayou STEP Trail, North Reach. A two mile concrete trail funded by the Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program. TxDOT will construct the trail. Greenspoint District is providing local matching funds and will maintain the trail. To be completed in 2013, it will extend west of Wussow Park, and east of City View Park.

Spring Skate Park/Dylan’s Park, North Reach. A 25 acre park with 15 acres of passive park and a 65,000 square foot skate park, and a five acre “park without limits” designed for handicapped users. Between the Kuykendahl Basin and the Glen Forest Natural Area. Developed by the Greenspoint Redevelopoment Authority.

Ida Gaye Gardens, North Reach. A 3.2 acre park next to the Langwick Senior Community. For the benefit of the health of seniors. With exercise equipment, walking trails, and community gardens.

Waste Management Nature Preserve and Garners Bayou Trail, East Reach. A 43 acre tract along Garners Bayou, to include a pond, wetlands, hiking trails, and fitness stations.

Aldine YMCA, a “Y without walls”

By Christine Nguyen

The Aldine-Greenspoint Family YMCA is not your typical YMCA. In fact, it’s not a YMCA in the traditional sense at all.

Only one of two of its kind in the Greater Houston area, the Aldine-Greenspoint Y is a “Y without Walls.” Instead of a traditional building, the Aldine Y uses existing facilities throughout the community to run its programs while operating out of one main office storefront.

“That’s the neat part about what we do,” senior program director Corey Calcote said. “We are really out in the community. Instead of the typical YMCA where the community comes to you, we try to bring ourselves to the community and serve them right where they are.”

The Aldine-Greenspoint Y maintains relationships with several partners in the area that provide spaces for its numerous programs. These include the East Aldine Management District, the Greenspoint Management District, Lone Star College System and Aldine ISD. The Y has about 1,000 program members and about 175 members who can use any YMCA facility in the city.

Day camps, sports programs and other activities are held in parks, Aldine ISD schools, the North Harris Lone Star college campus, the Acres Homes multi-service center, churches, apartment complexes and a number of other sites in the community.

While not having a traditional facility may seem like a disadvantage to some, social responsibility director Claudia Sanchez said that by allowing staffers to build strong relationships in the community, it can actually prove to be a blessing.

“Right now, with the summer day camp kids, you see them every day,” Sanchez said. “You spend 10 hours a day with them so at times, you actually spend more time with them than their parents.”

Despite multiple locations, the Aldine-Greenspoint Y offers essentially all of the same programs as a traditional YMCA, is funded the same as a traditional YMCA and even engenders the same sense of community as a traditional YMCA.

“We finished out an ESL class … and it was so funny, the last class they had this big potluck,” Sanchez said. “It was like a feast, and it was probably about eight people, but they really felt like a family in that small class.”

Calcote said he hopes that the small communities they build in the area will eventually grow into one large, unified community. But without the visibility of a central location, Calcote says they still face one minor challenge: letting people know they exist.

“The people in this community have embraced what we’re trying to do more so than I could have ever imagined,” Calcote said. “It’s amazing what we’re able to accomplish if we can just get the word out. As long as we’ve been here, people still don’t know that we’re here sometimes.”