CHELSEA — By the time Juan Escobar turned 12 years old, he'd already endured years of abuse and starvation, weighed only 43 pounds, and was living in the foster care system.
Now 20, Escobar recently recalled one of the few safe havens he had at the time — a sleepover camp where he spent a summer — as a healthy place to play, exercise and recover.
“When I arrived at this place, seeing trees, deer, a bunch of stars in the sky, I thought, “Wow, this is really nice,” said Escobar, who later became a counselor at the camp. He's now studying criminal justice at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, and hopes to one day join the NYPD.
Their Strong Kids Campaign, which launched last Wednesday, is looking for community support for programs that help kids stay healthy, including after-school programs for locals and sleep-away camps for disadvantaged youths.
The community center serves about 14,000 kids in Chelsea, Union Square, and Greenwich Village. It’s been there for over a century, giving play space and programs to kids that can’t afford it, and even providing high school gym classes.
“We want more people to understand that we are more than where to go to exercise or swim,” said John Rappaport, the YMCA’s executive director. “We rely on their financial support to do our vital work.”
The organization’s overall goal is to raise $190,000 to continue their programs and keep on serving the neighborhood, where organizers say local kids still need a helping hand despite rapid gentrification and an influx of wealth over the past few decades, particularly for kids who may have nowhere else to go after school.
“The Y is a fixture in New York City and a beacon of hope to many," said Brenda Cooke, a volunteer organizer for the campaign. "The Strong Kids Campaign helps provide families and kids in our community with the support they need to overcome adversity and to thrive.”