The Y is centered on social responsibility. According to, YMCA buildings weren’t constructed with gymnasiums until 1869, 25 years after its founding in 1844. It was a place designed to meet social need in the community. One need today is meeting students’ different learning styles.

For a variety of reasons, students arrive at the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA i-Learn program. Something isn’t working for them in the Chandler high schools: how they learn, how they interact with others or how they are motivated.

“They feel defeated; they don’t know what to do.” I-Learn program director James Martinez said. “They come here feeling like: ‘I’m just kind of done.’”

Students come from all four high schools in Chandler. They’ve been moved around, they’ve struggled and now they are a seemingly random group in a new place. Many are self motivated, but just need a new environment. It happens to be the perfect recipe for success.

“They come here and settle down a bit. They look at the other students and realize someone here has a similar problem.” Martinez said. “They really support each other. They call each other up in the morning. ‘We are all stuck in this situation,’ they say, ‘let’s try and finish.’”

The YMCA i-Learn program, funded in part through a grant from Phoenix Suns Charities, partners with the Chandler Unified School District offering a way for students to complete classes and earn their high school diploma. One or two sessions per day of one-on-one online coursework in a smaller setting helps these students succeed. When they earn the credits they need, they can graduate with their classmates and get their high school diploma.

Martinez is instrumental in drawing out students’ motivation. He sees students who are stuck. Students who are so far behind they don’t know what to do. So he starts by simply talking to them. He listens to their story and tells them they are valuable, that they mean something. They also work together to get a glimpse of graduation. They map out a plan of what it will take and how to do it. The smaller class size gives them the accountability they need.

“You made it to this place. You are here,” he tells them. “You still want your education.”

But as always in life, actions speak louder. Recently a student had quite a few credits to make up. By all measures, she wasn’t supposed to graduate this year. But Martinez encouraged her to start coming to both sessions. She was getting a lot finished and so they stayed late. One night Martinez rearranged his family’s schedule to stay late again. The final day came and the student needed to finish by 3 p.m. At 2:55 p.m., Martinez was able to send over the transcripts. She graduated and was able to get her diploma with her high school friends.

“This group of kids is really special to me. They want to finish. They get motivated,” Martinez said. “When they do finish, it’s a big deal for them. They were so far behind.”

The Y is typically seen as a gym to help people get on their feet and start exercising. Working in the community and for social responsibility, the Y also helps people get back on their feet and motivated in life.

Click here for a student’s story about the program.

For more information contact Kate Clarno, 602-212-6179.