Free YMCA Membership for Bigs and Littles

After his Little Brother was shot, Big Brother helped forge an unprecedented partnership with the YMCA to keep him safe

HOUSTON – Wanting to make a difference in a child’s life, Tim Garza, 29, joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) program roughly two years ago and was matched with a 14-year-old boy named De’un. Although De’un did well in school and showed promising athletic ability, he was later shot in the foot by a neighborhood kid. At the time, the injury dashed his hopes of being a track and basketball star, and his grades began to drop.

Fearing De’un – who is raised solely by his grandmother – might continue to run into the wrong people, Garza searched for a place where he could go after school and during the idle days of summer. Garza approached the YMCA of Greater Houston and suggested a partnership with BBBS, in which Bigs and Littles could go to the YMCA free of charge.

Realizing that many young people need regular exposure to positive role models, executives at both organizations instantly embraced the idea.

June 22 marks the beginning of a partnership that will give Bigs and Littles free memberships to all YMCAs in the Greater Houston area.

“The YMCA cannot be more excited to open its doors to Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Paul McEntire, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston. “We can’t think of a more natural fit between two organizations, which at their core strive to give children the tools to lead successful lives.”

Currently lacking in Big Brothers in particular, BBBS’ CEO Pierce Bush said he hopes access to the YMCA’s gyms, exercise equipment and sports programs will prompt more young men to become mentors to boys who don’t have positive male role models in their lives.

“As we work to attract more volunteers to engage with nearly 900 unmatched Littles in Houston, partnerships like this are what will spark our mission to grow,” Bush said.

Having grown up in Houston’s BBBS program with a Big Sister to guide her, Michelle Williams, the grandmother of De’un, wants her grandson to have a mentor as well. “He doesn’t have a male figure around here. This keeps him motivated. Every time his phone pings he rushes over to see who it is,” she said. “I try to keep positive role models in his life.”

Alex Dailey, 29, shares a similar experience with Garza regarding his Little Brother of five years, Audran, 16. When Audran was 15, his grandfather died just before summer. Knowing Audran would have no one to look after him, as the adults in his life either worked long hours or were absent, Dailey looked to the YMCA for help.

Empathetic to the situation, the Foster Family YMCA, 1234 W. 34th St., offered Audran and Dailey scholarships to use the center last summer at no charge.

“Audran needed somewhere to go,” Dailey said. “That summer he needed to be distracted. It makes a huge impact to have a place that is safe and positive to go. He didn’t so much talk about the sadness of grandpa being gone but about day camp. It was a game changer for us.”

Bigs often struggle to find things to do with their Littles, or they feel they must spend a lot of money to have a good time, Dailey said. “That’s why the YMCA is good. It allows you to spend quality time with your Little without breaking the bank.”

Reflecting on his time at the YMCA last summer, Audran said his counselors “made me feel happy when I was feeling down” and introduced him to kickball, challenging games of basketball and Frisbee.

“He got to do things that I am unable to do for him,” said Joyce Hines, Audran’s guardian who legally adopted him several years ago. “He’s been looking forward to going back, but I haven’t been able to afford it.”

Hines embraces the new partnership with the YMCA as do countless others who are part of the BBBS organization.

With his foot nearly healed, De’un, now 16, said he is excited about going to the YMCA on a regular basis. “They are all real nice people there,” he said of the Houston Texans YMCA, 5202 Griggs Road, the center closest to his home. “I feel comfortable around them. If it weren’t for the Y, I’d just be around the house with nothing to do except watch TV.”

Now, the rising sophomore who has won top honors at his high school for his athletic achievements can resume his workouts with people who offer unconditional support.

“The YMCA is a place to go after school and during the summer that is a much safer alternative to being on the street,” Garza said. “The more De’un is surrounded by positive people, the more his perspective on life will change. Sometimes all kids know about the world is their own neighborhood.”

All Littles and Active Bigs are eligible for a free YMCA membership and must complete an online form in order to receive their certificate to be redeemed for a free city-wide membership.