Strong Communities Agenda

The Racine Family YMCA Strong Communities Agenda provides a range of programs designed to increase the strength and effectiveness of community life and improving local conditions, especially for youth in disadvantaged situations.


The African philosophy, "It takes a village to raise a child" explains the critical role parents, teachers, volunteers, donors, community members, and YLA members play in helping achieve our mission. There is not another program in Racine like the YLA. We are a member program with the goal of changing the attitudes of youth toward and empowering them to achieve success in school and life.

Members embark on the three components of the Young Leaders Academy between a two to six-year period, depending on when they start the program.



First Choice is a 6 week program focusing on Tools for Success as a prerequisite for construction concepts, road building and safety. In the Tools for Success curriculum emphasis is placed within the curriculum personal growth and development assets. Our experience is that employers value a candidate who brings time, stress, anger management and other employability skills to them while the prospective employer provides other skills in the building trades for successful careers



Launched in May 2019, this intervention/gang aversion program offered in partnership with Racine County Human Services connects juvenile offenders (middle and high school-age students) identified by the Racine juvenile justice system as high risk for repeat offences, to mentors (Messengers) who have overcome similarly challenging life experiences. Through gang-diversion mentoring and instruction to broaden personal and educational horizons, students learn to seek positive life outcomes, reducing recidivism. The Family Engagement Specialist meets regularly with parents/guardians to identify and address family needs and provide appropriate resources, including referrals to other Y programs such as fatherhood mentoring through the Focus on Fathers Initiative, job training through the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program, or the  Young Leaders Academy (YLA) for younger siblings.

The Y also works with youth who are at high risk for becoming involved in the justice system. This could include siblings of current program participants, previously incarcerated youth who are no longer monitored by the court system, or youth in the community who are on the fringe of gang activity. These youth are identified by parents, school teachers and counselors, law enforcement, etc. Outreach to this population includes expanded meetings and services to parents, meetings in the community and other youth recruitment strategies. The Messengers also attend court appearances as sometimes parents/guardians do not show up. The Messengers also provide mentoring to youth who are currently incarcerated.

Credible Messengers is designed with the assumption that some youth may continue to display negative attitudes and behaviors and there is no expulsion or rejection of any who might continue to engage in negative behavior during their participation. In the event a youth doesn't attend planned meetings or groups; the Messenger will seek the youth out in the community and continue to engage him/her in the program. Patience and understanding are required, as are clear expectations.

Messengers/Mentors. The ability of youth to engage in and connect with community supports that help to build social capital and support economic and social-emotional stability is minimized if those presenting the message are not credible. Credibility lies in the ability to create a relationship based on similarities, an understanding of where youth come from, an understanding of involvement with the justice system that youth can appreciate and the ability of the messenger to communicate with the youth. The Credible Messenger Program team and Family Engagement Specialist partner with the youth, families and the case manager to serve as a guide, mediator and mentor, and assist youth in becoming capable of functioning within the community without further involvement in the justice system. The Messengers also support the youth's wellbeing, help youth to change or break generational cycles and alter challenging life circumstances.

Curriculum-based group and individual mentoring intervention assists justice-involved and at-risk youth transform the attitudes and behaviors that have led to criminal activity. The program goes beyond the traditional mentoring approach. By mentoring youth who are involved or on the path to becoming involved in the juvenile system, youth receive the resources and support to make the positive changes needed to avoid any or further interaction with the youth justice system. The objective is to prevent subsequent criminal behavior and to build skills in youth so they can be successful in school and work and develop the core competencies needed to be successful within the community. This is accomplished by utilizing a mentoring intervention that includes:

1. A group process where participants become an important support system for each other

2. A curriculum based on cognitive behavioral principles delivered by culturally appropriate mentors

3. 24/7 on-call availability for support, advice and guidance

4. Incorporation of positive youth development values, principles and practices

5. Case management services provided by the RCHSD Youth Justice staff

In its first year (2019-2020), the Credible Messenger program served:

-35 referred mentees, with 20 youth being incarcerated at the time of their referral.

-Within the first 2-3 months 19 youth were continuously being locked-up.

-Within the first 6 months only 8 youth were reoffending.

-Within the first 12 months only 1 reoffended (this individual was in the program for less than three months).

-Six mentees were incarcerated at the time they were referred to the Credible Messengers.


Focus on Fathers is a multi-faceted fatherhood initiative that enhances the capacity of fathers to be positively involved in the lives of their children and their communities. There are afternoon and weekday sessions, young father mentoring, support groups, as well as workshops to interested organizations. 

Through evidence based fatherhood, relationship, and early childhood development programming fathers learn principles of effective parenting and communication.

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Childhood obesity and food insecurity are serious challenges in low-income populations, disproportionately impacting the African American community. Over the past decades, sharp increases in overweight and obesity rates have occurred among African American and other ethnic groups, nationally and in Racine.

To address the issue of poor nutrition among low income youth in Racine’s inner city, the Racine Family YMCA is constructing a Healthy Living Kitchen to provide hot, nutritious meals free to 150 children and teens at least twice per week to start and eventually every school day, with a goal to introduce a free summer meal program. When completed, the Healthy Living Kitchen will also provide meals for the Food for Thought component of the Credible Messenger gang-diversion program funded by Racine County Human Services. Mentors and youth gather around the table to share a meal, bond and build trust, and discuss the day’s topics.

The Healthy Living Kitchen is made possible by the Mead Witter Foundation and the Ascension Foundation, with support from the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services.


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