One year ago, Antonia Mendez and her family were newcomers to Gothenburg trying to meet people and get connected in the community.
Today, Antonia is working side-by-side with her friends and neighbors to help other families and children learn, grow and connect through her role as the after-school program director at the YMCA at Gothenburg Health.
When the new Y building opens in April, Antonia’s role will expand to include supervising Child Watch (supervised play while parents exercise).She will also lead the YMCA’s summer day-camp program.
Growing up in Grand Island, Antonia learned the importance of community involvement from her mom and dad. Her parents, who adopted Antonia from Columbia, South America, when she was six months old, were both attorneys and were highly involved in the community. Her dad served on the board of the Grand Island YMCA.
Antonia’s mom enrolled her in a babysitting class as a young teen, and Antonia immediately found joy in all sorts of babysitting jobs.
“I just like being around kids,” she said. “They are always fun, and there’s always something to learn from them.”
YMCA Branch Director Julie Czochara, also a recent newcomer to Gothenburg, hired Antonia to lead the Y’s new after-school program that started at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
Currently, 13 children in preschool through sixth grade are enrolled in the program, which takes place for now at the Dudley Elementary School. The program starts at the end of the school days and includes gym time, snacks, homework help and other organized activities, such as crafts. It ends at 6 p.m.
One of the kids’ favorite physical activities is playing Knockerball. They also made catapults, created and delivered Christmas cards to nursing homes and made coffee cups for parents as a Christmas gift. On Thursdays, the Building Blocks kids join the YMCA kids for fun activities, such as Minute-to-Win-It games.
One of the most rewarding parts of the program, Antonia said, is seeing the friendships develop between the kids in the program and seeing the older kids gain confidence and leadership skills by helping the younger kids in the program.
Her son, Abraham, and two other 14-year olds, Jordan Franzen and Trevor Galas, have volunteered for the program and enjoy playing basketball or activities such as Sudoku with the older kids.
Antonia also receives help from three other YMCA after-school program staff members: Isaac Eggenberger, Nataleagh Satorius and Sidnee Ostendorf.
Antonia looks forward to the opening of the new Y and how it could expand the after-school program.
“What I’d really like to see with the after-school program is to have 45-50 kids enrolled,” Antonia said.
She said new after-school opportunities will be available to kids when the Y opens, such as swim time and swimming lessons.
She wants to continue to add staff and opportunities and continue to create a program that is welcoming and is known as “a confidence-boosting, happy positive place where all the kids feel safe.”
Antonia said she is grateful for her job at the Gothenburg YMCA, especially because of her friendly and supportive co-workers.
“We have an amazing staff, and that includes everybody,” she said.
Antonia has filled in at the front desk, and others have filled in for her when she had sick kids at home.
“I think the staff is what really makes our Y special,” she said. “We really help each other out. It is like your second family.”