By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities is rolling out the red carpet for teenagers this summer.

Young people in grades nine through 12 will be eligible for a free Summer Membership at 25 YMCA’s in western Wisconsin, Rochester and the Twin Cities.

“Only 20 percent of teens are reported to have a job in the summer, 20 percent, which is obviously an issue,” said Matt Kjorstad, executive director of Harold Mezile North Community Y. “When you start to looking at young people of color, you see even a bigger disparity.”

The Y partnered with The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation to offer more than 6,000 teens free memberships for the summer. Sophomore Serenity Primus was a part of last year’s program.

(credit: CBS)

“Everybody was trying to help one another, and there was just so much positivity in that one space that you don’t usually get being outside of there, like, because there are so many negative things going on in the world, and so I feel like it was really important to have that space to feel safe,” Primus said.

Statistics show risky behaviors — like violence, drinking and drug use — increase during the summer.

“To be able to have an opportunity to go to the Y for free is really important to all of us, and we did feel really safe in that community,” said sophomore Talia McWright.

“If I wasn’t at the Y, I’d be home, you know, eating chips, soda in my couch, every day on my phone,” said sophomore Rohit Koirala. “And I feel like going to the Y and lifting weights and, you know, swimming, running and working on my endurance, I felt like it really pushed me to be a better version of myself.”

Sign up for the free program starts Friday. Each Y has 250 openings. And once they are gone, your name goes on a waiting list.

Eight YMCA’s across the metro will also offer free lunch to teens along with the free membership.

Reg Chapman