Misty Freeman is a single mother of three who lights up every time she talks about her kids. Fifteen year-old Matthew is a sophomore at Jamestown High School. Twelve-year-old Ryan is in seventh grade at George Washington Middle School, and 10-year-old Rebecca is a fifth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Tackling the job of raising three healthy kids alone would be hard enough, but for Misty it's especially difficult. Matthew suffers from Still's disease, a rare autoimmune disorder, and Ryan has been diagnosed with ADHD and autism. Rebecca, the only child without a diagnosis, finds herself striving for the attention her two brothers so desperately need. This is the reality facing Misty Freeman. This is also why the Eastside Y has been such a godsend.
"It's rare to find a place that accepts all my children," said Ms. Freeman. "This place has had such a huge impact, educationally and socially, on my family."
Matthew, whose physical disorder causes him to become ill more often than most kids his age, has been going to the Eastside Y for three years. A natural-born leader, he's found his niche helping others in the afterschool program.
Single mother Misty Freeman sits with her children: 15-year-old Matthew, 12-year-old Ryan and 10-year-old Rebecca.
"The Eastside Y has helped my confidence and has taught me a great deal about leadership," said Matthew. "Here I can help people out with their homework or simply talk to them. Sometimes just talking to other kids is the best way to help them deal with their problems."
Matthew's younger brother Ryan takes advantage of the tutoring program at the Eastside Y, which is provided by Chautauqua Striders. The impact has been huge.
"It's helped me better learn and socially interact with others," said Ryan. "The Eastside Y is a fun place where I can be myself."
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"For Ryan especially, the Eastside Y has been huge," Ms. Freeman echoed. "Through the Life Skills course, he's learned how to really interact with others. I know my son will never be fully cured, but being here has helped his condition improve. It's a safe place with the right mix of fun and educational programming."
And the Eastside Y has provided the right mix of friends for the Freeman's youngest sibling, Rebecca. With Matthew's frequent bouts of sickness and Ryan's outbursts, she can sometimes can get lost in the mix - but not at the Eastside Y.
"Being here has really helped me make friends," said Rebecca. "The tutors have helped me with my homework and I enjoy the fun activities like going on field trips in the summer. It's a great family atmosphere here."
Mark Eckendorf is the CEO of the Jamestown Area YMCA. He said creating more of a family atmosphere has been the new focus for the Eastside Y.
"Branch Manager Max Martin has done a tremendous job bringing in the families of these children we serve, many of whom come from low-income, single parent homes," said Eckendorf. "Before, parents would simply drop off their kids and leave. Now they come inside the building. It makes a huge difference to get the parents involved."
The Eastside Y is one of 44 local programs supported by the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County. When you donate to the United Way Campaign, your gift stays right in this community to help families just like the Freeman family find that home away from home.