YMCA Hamilton is dedicated to building strong kids, strong families and strong communities. This vision is at the heart of the work being done through their Melville After School Care programme.

Taking place at the Melville Primary School hall, the programme came about after the previous after school care, which was a paid programme, failed to be financially viable.

“Only one or two kids were attending each afternoon,” recalls Graeme Mead, Centre Manager at YMCA Hamilton. “But we weren’t going to give up on the local community.”

The programme now exists as a free service and is attended by at least twelve to fourteen kids every day. Parents are asked to pay a small koha, but only if they are able. Melville Primary School - who have been “wonderful,” Graeme says - provides the hall free of charge, while YMCA Hamilton covers the rest of the costs, such as food and staff.

“This comes to the tune of about $25,000 a year,” Graeme says. “We’ve had difficulty getting any other funding.”

This has been only one of the challenges YMCA Hamilton faces when it comes to the programme. “The school is decile one, and many of the kids are from difficult backgrounds, and have behavioural, mental and physical difficulties,” Graeme says. “But there’s some really cool kids that come along.”

These children are the reason that the programme exists. As Graeme reiterates, “We’ll never stop helping these kids and the community.”

To do that, the programme aims to be fun and educational, while also ensuring that they all have a place they feel comfortable and secure. “I hope we’re more than just a babysitting service,” Graeme says. “We want them to feel they can come to us and feel safe and looked after.”

There have also been some highlights along with all the challenges however, particularly the dedication and support the staff of YMCA Hamilton have shown for the programme. “They have all wanted to be involved,” Graeme says, “and we now have two dedicated staff down there looking after them every day.”

For Graeme, it is the little things – like the appreciation and happiness of the kids involved – that make it all worthwhile. “Every time I go down there I get swamped by the kids,” he says.

Catherine Powell says that her stepdaughter, Tatyana, who attends Melville After School Care, “loves it, and loves the tutors, who are all so interactive.”

“Tatyana has had some minor behavioural issues, and through the programme she’s learned social skills and made friends,” Catherine says. “It’s been a great positive influence on her life.”

“It’s also really great because it’s cheap,” she continues. “It’s so hard to find affordable childcare these days.”

When it comes to the future of the programme, Graeme hopes that they can get more kids involved. Beyond that? “If anyone wants to gives food or money, that’d be great,” he says with a laugh, before adding, more seriously, that all donations are “gratefully accepted.”

The children involved benefit greatly from the hard work and actions of YMCA Hamilton. The Melville After School Care programme looks out for these kids, when it seems as though everyone else has forgotten them. It is with activities like these that YMCA Hamilton is making a difference in the lives of kids every day, helping them, their families and their communities become stronger.