Meeting Waters YMCA’s Y-ASPIRE program is back

Meeting Waters YMCA's Y-ASPIRE program is back for the fall. Registration is now open. Photo provided
Meeting Waters YMCA’s Y-ASPIRE program is back for the fall. Registration is now open. Photo provided

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Meeting Waters YMCA Executive Director Susan Fortier remembers the date well. It was a Friday in mid-March. She listened to Gov. Scott’s weekly press conference where he announced all Vermont schools would be closed for at least three weeks. Of course, it ended up being much longer. The regional Y’s nationally recognized Y-ASPIRE program was shuttered for the first time since its creation in 1999.

When Gov. Scott implored school-age childcare providers to establish “remote learning hubs” when many schools went to a hybrid model in the fall, Fortier quickly made arrangements to rent spaces in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls. The regional Y offered full-day programming for area youth on the days they were not in school. Y staff helped students get logged onto their laptops when they had a virtual class. In between classes, students participated in a variety of hands-on learning activities that the Y-ASPIRE and Y Day Camp programs are recognized for nationwide.

With students returning to in-school learning full-time in a few weeks, Y-ASPIRE will be back at five of its traditional sites: Brattleboro’s Academy School, Oak Grove School and Green Street School, Dummerston School, and Charlestown Primary School in New Hampshire. All programs will open on the first day of school.

“We’re excited to be back in our partner schools with one of our flagship programs,” says Fortier. “While only half the age of our Y Day Camp program, since 1999 Y-ASPIRE has positively impacted thousands of young people and their families.”

Speaking to the latter, Fortier notes that in 2016, Meeting Waters YMCA was recognized by YMCA of the USA, the national resource center for the 2,700 Ys in America, as one of eight exemplary models of family strengthening. “When [former executive director] Steve [Fortier] and I developed and designed Y-ASPIRE in late 1998, we drew on our professional and personal experiences in positive youth development, health promotion, and family development. We wanted to offer an after-school program that met the needs of working parents, that created opportunities for parents to network and strengthen their skills, and, yes, that helped develop the young people’s ‘spirits, minds and bodies’ as we say in the Y movement – to help them be healthy in all ways.”

Examples Fortier cites include the program schedule – the program not only runs from the close of school until 6 p.m. on all 180 school days, but also for full days during school vacations and even on most holidays – the commitment to national Healthy Eating and Physical Activity standards (another national award in 2015), and the commitment to developing “assets” that research has proven to help young people build foundational skills that will prevent risk behaviors and promote success.

“We’re glad that all but one of the schools we have served for decades has welcomed us back as they return to some normalcy,” Fortier added. “We’ve demonstrated our mission-driven quality for 23 years. Parent and community feedback is always overwhelmingly positive. Employers understand the role we are playing in helping their staff show up consistently. And, as I have said since 1999, ‘if we’re going to be with children for three hours a day, five days a week, we’re going to use that time to make the biggest difference in their lives as possible’.”

Enrollment for Y-ASPIRE for the 2021-22 school year is now open. The program at Academy School is filled with current parents, some of whom have incoming kindergartners; a waiting list is available for that site. All other sites have openings at this time. Parents can register their child by going to

Fortier is still looking for staff members at sites in southeastern Vermont and Charlestown, N.H.

Meeting Waters YMCA is a 501(c)(3), charitable, nonprofit organization founded in 1895. Its programs and services make positive impacts in the Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Springfield, and Fall Mountain regions. Donations to support the regional Y’s Y-ASPIRE and other programs can be made at or by sending a check to P.O. Box 511, Bellows Falls, VT 05101.

Back To Top