Expanding on its successful free membership program for seventh graders, the South Mountain YMCA will offer free memberships to sixth and eighth graders too starting in September.

“A Y membership fosters resiliency and a sense of belonging in middle schoolers, and encourages them to build their bodies and minds, developing healthy habits for a lifetime,’’ South Mountain YMCA Executive Director James Goodger said. Research shows that children in middle school are exposed to influences that can result in them making dangerous choices, including using alcohol and drugs, Goodger noted.

The South Mountain YMCA is one of six branches of the Metro YMCA, the largest association of YMCAs in New Jersey with more than 35,000 members. Free memberships will also be offered at the Sussex County YMCA, Wayne YMCA and West Essex YMCA.

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“Children in middle school are inundated by internal and external pressures that put them at risk of making unhealthy decisions that impact their wellbeing,’’ said Metro YMCA President and CEO Richard K. Gorab. “Our Middle School Membership Initiative encourages young teens to develop healthy habits and empowers them to pursue their potential in a supportive, fun environment.” 

The Metro Y has provided free memberships to nearly 1,600 seventh graders since 2008. The effort has helped children grow as individuals at a critical time in their development, and to remain engaged with their peers, their families and the community.

Parents who want to receive information about the initiative are asked to submit a form, which can be filled out online at metroymcas.org/forms/free-ymca-midde-school-membership/.