LIVINGSTON, NJ — Incoming sixth, seventh and eighth graders can enjoy free West Essex YMCA memberships starting in September.

Middle schoolers who sign up will have access to the West Essex YMCA’s fitness center, pool, gymnasium, and teen center, and may take one free class per session. They’re also invited to sign up for Empower, a special program that helps teens develop greater self-confidence and focus.

“Our free middle school membership program helps preteens and young teens gain resiliency and a sense of belonging as they learn fun, healthy habits that can carry them into adulthood,” said West Essex YMCA Executive Director Helen Flores.

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According to the Flores, middle schoolers who belong to the YMCA tend to remain engaged with their peers, families and the wider community. That involvement can counteract the negative influences they are exposed to that can lead to poor decision-making, Flores said.

The Metropolitan YMCA of the Oranges (West Essex YMCA is one of six branches) began offering the program to seventh graders in 2008, and expanded it to sixth and eighth graders last year. Parents who want to receive information about the initiative are asked to submit a form, which can be filled out online.