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YMCA thanks supporters

Around 150 people attended the Duluth Area YMCA's Showcase Dinner on Oct. 26 at Northland Country Club. The event honored supporters of the Y's Heritage Foundation.

"It's a celebration of people who are currently giving or plan on giving," said Chris Francis, president and CEO of the Duluth Y.

The foundation provides scholarships for youth and family memberships and programs. "Our goal is that no one is turned away," said Kevin Peterson, development officer. The Duluth Y has over 10,000 members and provides subsidies to 3,000, he said.

Former Mayor Don Ness provided the keynote speech. He spoke of the decreasing amount of opportunities for young people to move out of poverty and the need to invest in them even if they don't yet have the job skills.

He recalled when he became a mentor, when the program was relatively new in Duluth. He mentored a young boy from the projects until the boy's family moved to Texas. Years later they met again when the boy was an adult who had moved back to Duluth and was married, a father and working as a chef.

"For the young person today, that 10-year-old kid who gets matched up with a mentor, it is as new to them as it was for Cato and me 20 years ago," Ness said. "The commitment is that we maintain what do well but aspire to do better, continue to invest in the next Cato that walks through the door and is looking at a full life ahead of them, and saying, 'You're important enough that we're going to invest in you.'"

Chris Francis said, "I am actually a product of the YMCA's youth employment program. They didn't have a formal program back in the '80s. Growing up I was adopted, twice actually, and in multiple foster homes, and the one consistent part of growing up was the YMCA. So within the YMCA I was constantly getting into trouble, constantly in the director's office, and he said, 'You know you're always in my office anyway, why don't you come work for us?' So I started doing youth sports and being in the fields and starting coaching and lifeguarding and it went from there. So really that's why this organization exists."

According to the Duluth YMCA's figures, recent studies have shown:

• 22 percent of all households in Duluth live on or below the poverty line.

• 23 percent of children in Duluth live in poverty, compared to the state average of 14 percent.

• 31 percent of children in Superior live in poverty, compared to the state average of 18 percent.

• 50 percent of all households headed by a single female with children under 18 were at or below the poverty line, and 70 percent of those had children under the age of 5.

• 40 percent of everyone living in poverty between ages 16 and 64 works.

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