FORT BRAGG, N.C. - For military parents looking for fun and educational activities for their children - look no further than the Fort Bragg Armed Services YMCA. Offering ways for parents and children to spend time together, fun activities for older children and many support programs, the ASYMCA has been reaching out to Fort Bragg Families since the military services program began at the Fayetteville YMCA in 1994.

Lynne Grates, executive director of the Fort Bragg/Pope Air Force Base ASYMCA, said most military Families do not know about the many programs offered through their organization.

"People still don't know we're here," Grates said. "They don't know about the programs and what we are here for."

Grates, who has been with the ASYMCA since 1997, is passionate about the many programs available to military Families that help provide the quality of life support they need to build solid careers, strong Families and establish a secure place in their military community.

"I hope awareness of what we do continues to grow and that more and more Families utilize our services," she said. "I also hope our partnerships with other organizations who are interested in helping military servicemembers and their Families continue to flourish. When organizations work together, much more can be done."

Grates is a military spouse, and mother of four, who said she sees the opportunity to work with military Families as a blessing.

"No one deserves more credit than our Soldiers who put their life on the line to keep us free. Behind the Soldier is the Family that is left to keep it together when the Soldier is deployed,"

Grates said. "Experiencing this first hand, I know what they are going through trying to be mom and dad at the same time, and every morning on the way into work I pray that I'm able to help at least one person or Family that day. The ASYMCA is such an incredible organization to work for. We fill the void wherever it is needed, and that's very rewarding."

As a non-profit organization, the ASYMCA relies on corporate and community support to offer programs and services that supplement and complement those already in place on Fort Bragg and the surrounding area. All of the programs offered through the ASYMCA are designed to help military Families bond, network in their community and participate in youth enrichment programs to help them stress less and connect more.

Julie Carr found out about the sports and games program at the ASYMCA through the Fort Bragg Web site, while looking for activities for her 2-year-old daughter, Kayla.

"I think it's great," Carr said. "She has a ball and it's been a good experience for her and I."
Jackie Pryor agrees. Pryor brings her children, Finn, 2 and Maggie, 8 months to participate in activities offered by the ASYMCA.

"I started bringing them here (ASYMCA) in January when we did the Movement to Music class. It gives them (her children) the opportunity to get outside of the house and play with other kids," Pryor said.

Programs offered by the ASYMCA are:
Operation Hero: This is a bi-weekly mentoring program that is not only designed to help students improve their grades, but also allows children to find their inner "heroes." The program runs three times a year and targets children ages 6 to 12 who have difficulty in school academically or socially. The program is referral based.

Kids' Olympics: Good sportsmanship is encouraged for this summer program as well as health and fitness. Parents are also welcome to participate in any or all of the 10 events with their children.

Soldier's Golf Outing: Junior enlisted Soldiers are provided with a day of golf, food and fun at no cost.

Baby Bundles: This program provides a layette for new mothers who are active - duty, E-4 and below and for the dependent spouse of an active duty Soldier E-4 and below. This program supplies about 1,500 bundles per year.

Operation Kid Comfort: Young children (ages 0 to 5 years old) of deployed, active-duty Soldiers can receive a free photo-transfer quilt of the child and deployed parent and Family. Photo transfer pillows are provided for children ages 6 to 12.

Healthy Kids Day: This annual event celebrates kids' health issues and promotes wellness of the mind, body and spirit.

Holiday Hearts: Partnering with Army Community Service, the Holiday Hearts program provides gifts for the children of military Families who are in need during the holiday season.

Klassy Kloset: A closet of formal wear that can be checked out for special occasions is located at the ASYMCA building.

Mother/Daughter Tea and Fashion Show: Promotes quality time for moms and daughters.

Other programs include arts and crafts, volunteer appreciation, deployment orientation and special summer programs. The ASYMCA also provides before and after school care at Johnsonville and Highland Elementary schools in Harnett County as well as a summer camp, eliminating any stress on working parents to find appropriate care for their children.

If anyone has an idea for a program that they've seen or been involved in at some other post/base, Grates encourages people to let the ASYMCA know.

"We are very open to any ideas and will try to find a way to incorporate it into what we offer here at Bragg/Pope," she said.

Grates said that's how the preschool classes (cooking, arts and crafts, fun with science, movement to music, etc.) as well as the Operation Kid Comfort Program got started.

"Ann Flaherty, the lady who came up with the idea, stopped at our office and asked if we'd be interested in starting this program," Grates said. "We jumped on it and it is now at the majority of the ASYMCAs across the country. A live interview with Soledad O'Brien, and being chosen as the recipient of the CNN American Morning's Extra Effort Series, skyrocketed the program into the national limelight and encouraged others to adapt it to fit their own needs."

When Callie Davidson, 16, heard that the ASYMCA needed volunteers, she jumped at the chance to pitch in. For over a month, Davidson has been helping out with Operation Kid Comfort.

"It's a lot of fun," said Davidson. "It's a good cause and I'm making quilts that will be cherished forever."

Being a self proclaimed "professional volunteer," Grates is passionate about the ASYMCA, the programs offered, the volunteers and the Families who are part of the effort.

"I've always been told that if you find a job you love, you won't ever have to dread going to work in the morning. That is so true. I love what we do here and I am very proud of our organization and the people that work with me. Every single one of them know our mission and are here because they want to help military Families."

For more information about other programs available, or how you can become a volunteer for the ASYMCA, contact Lisa Kotson at 436-0500 or go to the Fort Bragg ASYMCA Web site at www.bragg