PHILADELPHIA -- To promote the well-being of students as they start making their own choices about healthy lifestyles, the YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity is offering free one-year memberships to seventh-grade students in 2010.

Students will have access to the YMCA’s 10 branches in Pennsylvania and will be able to use the same services as paying members, including fitness equipment, group exercise classes, pools and basketball programs.

“As youth begin to face the varied challenges of adolescence, they are more likely to begin disassociating from formal organizations, to distance themselves from family and its support structures, and to experiment with unhealthy and illegal behaviors,” the Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs said in a statement. “The YMCA of Philadelphia & Vicinity has a longstanding tradition of creatively adapting its services to the changing needs and interest of its constituents and is proud to launch the 7th Grade Membership Initiative as a way to better engage, educate, and connect to our youth right when they need it most.”

The Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs established the state-wide initiative to support of the efforts of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Department of Education and 500 school districts in the state, the organization said.