As kids grow up, they are greatly influenced by the environments in which they are raised. This includes their home, community and society. Children who have access to nurturing, stimulating and safe environments have fewer difficulties and experience better health, learning, relationships and well-being.

That is why for Aiden Houston, age 10, being a part of a community at the YMCA has made such a difference.

“Aiden is a volunteer and member at the YMCA’s H2O location,” explains Aiden’s mom, Makenzie Houston. “Volunteering gives him a sense of purpose. He walks to H2O twice a week after school and is learning to be more independent and self-confident.”

Makenzie was 16 years old when Aiden was born. As a single mother she has worked hard to provide him with the best opportunities she could offer but it hasn’t been easy. Thanks to local donors who support the YMCA Strong Kids Campaign, Makenzie and Aiden are able to participate in Y programs and services they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

“Through the Y, Aiden has met friends, he has developed a passion for riding on H2O’s FlowRider® surf simulator and he has some great role models to look up to. I have also noticed a difference in Aiden’s happiness. He used to go to his grandparents every day after school and watch TV or play video games and would be grumpy and tired when I’d pick him up after work. Since he has been volunteering, he is proud of himself and a lot happier.”

BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. Nearly one in five kids live in low-income households in the Central Okanagan alone. With numbers this high, it is necessary for community members to lend a hand.

If you want to help families like Makenzie and Aiden, join the Y on Sunday May 29 at their largest fundraising event, YMCA Cycle for Strong Kids. From 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at H2O Adventure + Fitness Centre families and community members will be cycling, on stationary bikes and along the mission greenway, to raise money for the cause. Drop by the event to participate in the silent auction, enjoy a barbeque by donation, get the kids’ faces painted and let them burn out energy in the kids zone, all while cheering on your community. And if you cannot make it on the day, but want to make a difference, you can make a donation.

“We are so grateful for YMCA donors,” says Makenzie. “Being a part of the Y has been really good for our family.”