Tuesday, 21 November 2017

USA Discovery Visit Day 6

After a weekend of exploring Boston (depending on whose activity tracker you believe this ranged from 44,000 to 60,000 steps) we picked up our Discovery Visit schedule this morning with a visit to the Parkway YMCA.

On arrival the reception area brought the annual campaign to life with a large Christmas tree and wall of stars representing pledges made by members and businesses in the local community.  Philanthropy has been a key discovery throughout our visit as we have learnt about the culture of donating to the Y ranging from Board members (both local and association boards) through to staff and members.

Photo of annual appeal stars representing donations.

Parkway Y was redeveloped in the last 2 years and the quality of the facilities are outstanding, we toured the aquatics area, fitness centre, gymnasium (and even had a tour of the boiler room!) before meeting in the community room to talk with staff about fundraising and their childhood development programmes. 

From Parkway YMCA our next stop was Thanksgiving lunch hosted by Executive Director Billy Alves and his leadership team at Menino YMCA.  We were met with warmth and enthusiasm by Billy and his leadership Team and it was a pleasure to be invited to share lunch with them.

Photo with the leadership team from Menino Y

Throughout our visit we have been fortunate to hear the stories of some of the people involved in the Y and over lunch I met Lyle Jackson, Teen and Youth Sports Development Director.  Lyle shared his story with the Y which began at Springfield College where he found he was struggling with college and sought help. Lyle was pointed in the direction of Harry Rock and Erin Friedman who quickly realised his potential and got him involved in the wider YMCA Movement including a visit to London to see the work of some of the English YMCA’s.  Following his graduation from Springfield College Lyle then chose a career with the YMCA!

We had the pleasure of meeting Erin Friedman, Associate Director of Springfield College on Thursday and in the spirt of Thanksgiving I would like to share with you a Mission Moment Erin delivered at the Massachusettes YMCA Alliance meeting we attended.

As Thanksgiving nears, I come to you with a simple message about gratitude.

In a community where people feel isolated, disconnected and are longing to belong, we have a place called the Y. Steadfast and stable - a place to ‘be’ and ‘become’.

In a community where children may fail to reach their full potential due to lack of resources, we have a place called the Y.  Determined and driven - a place that nurtures the goodness in every child - socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically.

In a community where the health and wellness of children and adults alike has been significantly compromised, we have a place called the Y.  Collaborating and conscientious - a place that renews and rejuvenates healthy lifestyles.

In a community where our social and political views divide us, we have a place called the Y.  Unifying and unique - a place that builds bridges and professes to be the place for all.

In a community where new Americans arrive daily, we have a place called the Y.  Warm and welcoming - a place that helps some of out brightest yet most vulnerable settle in.  Let us be grateful.

In a WORLD challenged by conflicting ideals, torn apart by wars, lacking access to education, healthcare and recreation, we have places called the Y.  Powerful and purposeful - that serve as beacons of hope, love and peace throughout 119 countries around the world.

Let us be grateful for our global YMCA Movement.  The vision and legacy of George Williams.  Thank you for your service to this great movement.  Thank you for your continued servant leadership.  Your willingness and courage to stand for what is right.  Thank you for reinforcing that the Y is the place for all.   Thank you for modelling the way.  The Y way.

Thank you to all of our YMCA Colleagues who have welcomed us to your Y’s and shared with us your knowledge, experience, challenges and celebrations throughout our visit.  It has been a pleasure to meet and get to know each and everyone one of you.

We now have a short break in todays programme to pack in advance of our departure for the UK tomorrow evening, before dinner this evening with the Director of Healthy Living, Bobby Kleinau.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Welcome to Springfield

After a very inspiring and thought provoking 3 days with the YMCA of Greater New York it was time to move on to the second leg of our discovery visit. Day 4 began with an early start at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Our host for this part of the visit was Erin Friedman, the Director of YMCA relations at the college.

Despite Springfield being a normal US College, educating 1400 undergraduates a year, evidence of its YMCA roots were clear with the Body, Mind and Spirit Triangle displayed prominently on buildings and still part of the college's logo.

Springfield College began life in 1885 as the YMCA School for Christian Workers before evolving to become the YMCA Training School for much of its history. We learnt about the college's place in YMCA history providing training for YMCA professionals from across North America and the world.

Today any student at the college can add a minor in YMCA professional studies to any major study and it provides an opportunity for all students, not just those interested in a YMCA career to develop their academic skill set through courses, volunteer work and networking.

Posted on behalf of Jason Beattie - YMCA Norfolk

We spent a very interesting 45 minutes in the college museum with archivist Jeffery Monseau, who shared the story of basketball's invention at the college in 1891 and showed us different YMCA artefacts. This museum also hosts the YMCA Hall of Fame. A fascinating morning, which put in context the on going mission of the YMCA world wide.

Our afternoon was spent in Marlborough, at the Alliance meeting of the YMCAs from across Massachusetts. The Alliance Director, Peter Doliber, explained that this was a formalised partnership of 30 YMCAs operating over 410 locations and that the Alliance was able to access state funding for different projects which was then distributed to the individual YMCAs to do the delivery.

Peter presented an annual update to the 160 people present. YMCAs had served 1/5 of Massachusett's residents, had distributed $60m in financial aid, given $32m in scholarships to college, had focused on improving child literacy and facilitated 250 young people to engage in a youth Government prog

Three awards were made to public policy champions. The Youth Development award went to Commissioner Thomas Weber of the Early Education Department. The Social Responsibility award was given to Speaker of the House, Robert Deleo for bringing in state laws around gun safety, drug prevention and early education. The Health Living award went to state representative, Aaron Vega.

Giving awards to politicians and people of influence is somethings we have experienced in both New York and Massachusetts and it is very simple and way to build relationship and engage support from those with the power to help the work of the YMCA.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

USA Discovery Visit Day 3

Posted on behalf of Julie Martin

The first few days have been totally amazing for all sorts of reasons.
We are hundreds of miles apart yet we all have that ‘want’ to transform lives, to care, to improve communities and to help  people reach their full potential.  
Thankyou everyone in NYC for your very warm welcome, for sharing, and making our stay so inspirational.
Across the world we seem to go arm in arm working to better lives.
I am proud to be part of this amazing family

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

USA Discovery Visit - Day 2

After hearing much about YMCA of Great New York's strategic direction and approaches on day 1 today we heard some of the detail that added flesh to the strategic skeleton that is driving their work forward across the five boroughs that comprise NYC.

As you might imagine an entrepreneurial approach is needed to sustain a near $200m operation and there are services and products that have a far greater drive for income than we typically see in our own Federation at home. Yet this generation of cash is needed to ensure that services for social good can be delivered in branches situated in the poorer neighbourhoods of the city and indeed to ensure that YMCA retains a physical presence in these areas. In fact, I would say that there are many common challenges faced by YMCA here and at home. Government policy has the potential to have a very real impact on not only the work we deliver but the very existence of some of our programmes and concise communication of our broad offer remains difficult.

What has remained consistent over the first few days is the warmth and enthusiasm of the welcome across the branches that we have visited, shown again today as we saw what Vanderbilt YMCA branch had to offer. The enthusiasm and positivity is infectious!

After a tour of the UN we were fortunate enough to be invited to the Hispanic Achievers Award's held at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. Here, we were given a very visual reminder of why YMCA exists and the life changing impact it has on the young people we serve. All of sudden the strategy, the income generating work, the investment in business infrastructure was shown to be a necessary diversion to achieve what we are really about. In front of a packed room, we heard about three young achievers who had overcome adversity and, through support from YMCA of Greater New York, achieved incredible things. Joshen Ayukawa recounted a troubled early childhood that could easily have forced him down the wrong path and yet his strength of character and a guiding hand from YMCA has resulted in hugely impressive individual with a positive future ahead and who is also contributing to help his peers and community. Congratulations also to Giselle Gonzalez and Shayna Gonzalez, both participating in a programme to boost the high school graduation rates of Hispanics in New York

I love strategy and dashboards and data and process but ultimately it is only there to allow people like Joshen, Giselle and Shayna to flourish.

Finally, I can't leave this blog without saying a huge thank you to all the staff of YMCA of Greater New York who we have met so far and especially Natalie Norton and Rayda Marquez who have been host extraordinaires and who have provided much food for thought.

Discovery Visit USA Day 1

Posted on behalf of Jo Chettleburgh - Director of Income Generation, YMCA England & Wales.

It’s my first time in America and I've been feeling both excited and apprehensive, today was a long day, heavy security, long flight and loads of traffic, but the lovely welcome we have received from YMCA New York City has made it all worthwhile, we had such an amazing evening with Rayda Director International Programs and Natalie Chief Operating Officer.

It’s also been lovely getting to know everyone in our group, lots of different skills, knowledge and experience coming together to represent YMCA England & Wales. It was strange trying to stay up as late as possible so that we wouldn’t wake up at 4am in the morning and be tired all day (Jason’s travel advice) J I woke up at 3.45am but soon fell asleep again.


We started our day at YMCA New York City Westside with CEO Sharon Greenberger sharing her visionary and inspirational approach to strategic change. With the imminent launch of their 2018-2025 strategic plan it was great to see how the different strands of their work come together to deliver the key strategic priorities to Empower Youth, Improve Health and Strengthen Communities.

Our visit to YMCA Harlem Branch was extremely interesting; it was great to see the legacy of Sir George Williams come to life through the diversity of engagement with a complex and varied community.

To see first-hand the positive impact of the innovative and market leading New Americans Welcome Centres initiative was amazing.

Natalie Norton COO facilitated an excellent afternoon of knowledge sharing, discussion and debate with her Senior Management Team, giving great insight into the size and complexities of how YMCA NYC is changing and developing its self to deliver the strategic challenges that face all of us in this fast changing economic and social environment.

Our day finished with a lovely reception with staff and Trustees.Thank you all so very much for a great start to our Discovery Visit, really looking forward to the next few days.

Jo Chettleburgh
Director Income Generation 

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Back to the future (of work)

Given the broad work of YMCA and the ever-increasing remit of the policy and research team, it can be easy for advocacy work to become a ‘fire fighting’ exercise.

In such instances the immediate need of responding to the latest in the long line of policy announcements that have the potential to negatively impact the lives of young people takes precedence, and more proactive work is deprioritised.

Participating in the European Youth Forum’s Expert Group on the Future of Work’s most recent meeting in Brussels afforded me the opportunity to look beyond the immediate need and examine what can be proactively done to help shape the working environment for young people.

Crucially, this is not merely a discussion about ‘robots taking our jobs’; it is a discussion about the world we want to live in and the basic human rights that are important to us.

Saying that, after two days of intensive meetings I’m afraid to say that the future of work is no clearer and if someone was to ask what it will look like, it’s safe to say that I would still not be able to give a concrete answer.

Needless to say, however, that I am not alone and experts around the world are divided on what comes next.

While reassuring that it’s not just me, this uncertainty does bring challenges. But, ever the optimist, with challenge comes opportunity and all that!

That opportunity is the chance to challenge the status quo. A status quo that so often ignores the needs and wants of young people in favour of their older counterparts.

I, along with the rest of the Expert Group are hoping to challenge this status quo, by lobbying for, and advocating with young people to make sure that their needs are put at the forefront of any decisions on the future of work.

‘The future of work’ seems an abstract concept, and to some extent it is. However, speaking to young people reveals that the effects of changing job markets are already being felt as young people struggle to navigate the so called ‘gig economy’.

As such, the discussions of the group focused around the role of big data and the implications for young people’s privacy, universal basic income as a means by which young people can be offered the protections they need, the impact of technology and robots on job creation and retention, and how to ensure that the future of work will truly work for everyone.

Our challenge now is how we make such changes work to our advantage and help secure young people are best equipped to reach their full potential.

It is this that I, as part of the Expert Group on the Future of Work, will continue to examine over the coming year and feed into the European Youth Forum’s Board Position Paper expected in September next year. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Refuelled and ready to go

I’m currently sat on a plane on my way back to London after a few days at World YMCA’s Strategy Delivery Summit.

I won’t lie to you, the few months haven’t been easy for me, both in terms of work and personally. I’d started to question where next, or even if there was a next.

But sat here reflecting about the last few days, I feel as high as the 39,000 feet up I am now.

We received updates on the progress being made at a global level against our strategy, some best practice models being developed, learnt about our visibility in the media globally, and heard about the plans for World Council and a new Secretary General.

I want to be part of a movement that has a vision and is taking steps to reach, empower and mobilise many more of the 1.8 billion young people living across the world today.

To take those next steps, I think we need to challenge our understanding of this generation, go deeper in understanding young people, and then be bold and innovating in speaking out on the issues that matter to them in the spaces they operate and live in.

Armed with a renewed sense of just how amazing our movement is, some emerging ideas of how we turn our aspiration into action, a list of contacts from amazing colleagues around the world, (and some new pin badges), I feel refuelled and ready to go again.

Lets make this happen!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

My Story of the Global Gathering of World YMCA Change Agents

I should've mic dropped - next time.

150 plus young leaders, proudly representing 49 different countries from the regions of Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia and Asia. So many personalities and values but we all share the same common love and common goal – the YMCA and empowering young people, we are ONE MOVEMENT. 

Our time in Portugal lasted 10 days in total, but those 10 days went by too fast, well I say 10 days, my time was extended to 13 days but more about that later oh, and the culture night that will come later too. The days involved stories, experiences, culture, sessions and interactive workshops. On Day 2, I myself presented a workshop on the theme of Young People and Civic Engagement which aligns with one of World YMCAs key areas of advocacy along with Health, Employment and Environment. 

I arrived in Lisbon a day earlier and took in some sights with another Change Agent from Czech Republic. The next day we travelled to our hosts in Setubal. YMCA Camp Alambre, a beautiful fit-for-purpose camp that was surrounded by the naturally beautiful Portuguese scenery and local vineyards that have produced award winning wines – what more would I need.

The Camp at YMCA Alambre
It was so uplifting to see familiar faces from previous Change Agent training in France, but more importantly the excitement of meeting and making new friends and networks was even more enriching. We were seen to our rooms and through prior information, I knew I was to share a bungalow with 5 other Change Agents from England. However, what some of us didn’t know is that they were to practice for the BBC Proms every night and on Day 2 they were dubbed by Joe as ‘the Sn-Orchestra’ - which still makes me giggle. Nevertheless, it was great to share a bungalow with some of the funniest people I have ever met. 

After the formal opening ceremonies and greetings, we dived straight into sessions around YMCA Research, the expectations of the gathering in addition to looking ahead to Word Council in Chaing Mai next year. 

Opening statements from Johan Eltvik, Secretary General, World YMCA

Environmental Immersions and Social Action was the main theme on the Monday. We were split up into different groups and split up around Setubal. As a total, we gave 19 days of volunteering and took part in cleaning up areas in the national park, renovation of Santa Margarita Chapel, restoration of the “Patience Fountain”, recuperation of a hiking pathway and where I was stationed, the rehabilitation of the oceanographic museum. 

Alli - Painting in Setubal
After our volunteering, we had free-time, and what a way to spend it, on the luscious golden beaches of the Setubal region. The heat of the sun was melting, but if you were crazy enough you could easily cool down in the water which was at an estimate around -50 degrees – Baltic.

Thanks to Igor; my face tells the picture of the freezing waters
Health and Employment was the focus of the next day, which took us into some of the social injustices that face young people today. Employment issues that were risen from the previous day steered us nicely into the topic of the next day where we would visit the Portuguese Parliament and meet with MPs of the Portuguese Government. Just like domestic politicians they evaded most of the questions but it was still an experience I will never forget, especially being given the honour to ask my groups question to the parliamentarians.

Portuguese Parliament
Question Time

Thursday was all about the 19th World Council which is held next year – it will also be the graduation of our Change Agent cohort. We also looked at the roles most of us may play next year from facilitating more sessions and workshops, being able to play a part in the opening ceremony and much, much more. I can easily say I am already looking forward to World Council.

Friday and Saturday was the backdrop for Youth Empowerment, we visited the region of Cascais, specifically Estoril. The region is to become the European Capital of Youth In 2018 – Stoke’s turn soon, maybe? The last full day began with more sessions being led around youth empowerment. In the evening, we were treated to locally produced sustainable food that was cooked and presented to us by the different YMCAs from the Setubal region. 


The cultural night is by far one of the highlights for me. Every time I have been on international gatherings they never fail to amaze me. This cultural night was the best yet in my opinion. Like I said at the start of this blog, we were representing 49 countries, 49 cultures of food, dress, drink and 49 arts of music and dance. The different foods that burst the palette of your tongue into joy, the drinks we sampled – some you needed to be courageous to even smell never mind taste.

The night started with a fashion show that featured different countries traditional clothes, most countries paraded down the red carpet, Cambodia, Japan, Cameroon, Malaysia and Ghana just to name a few. We were also graced with the presence of Hotu who hails from Easter Island – he showed us a traditional war dance of the Rapa Nui people. It was so captivating to learn the history of his home. Near the latter part of the night we all engaged in something that is turning to be a tradition from Team England, we got everyone in a circle and brought the Hokey Cokey to the people once again and this time it was bigger, better and more chaotic than ever before. 

Hotu (middle) - Easter Island/Rapa Nui

By now we have all reached home with the learnings and stories we’ve all shared, new friends and new connections that spread across the globe. We are better prepared now more than ever to empower young people within our respected communities. ‘Be The Change’ a term we all know, use and all endeavour to be.

Portugal it has been a pleasure, special thanks to YMCA Alambre Camp for the hospitality, the smiles, the music, the coffees and your service. Also, special appreciations to the staff and volunteers of World YMCA for their knowledge and challenging work over the weeks and months; Romulo, Adi, Karina, Sharnelle, Maricris, Jose, Andrew and Johan, you guys are inspiration to us all.

There are no goodbyes in YMCA – only “see you again soon”. Thailand is our next gathering but the work and the CHANGE has already begun.

Look how close i got to the cancelled plane :(
P.S I mentioned 13 days instead of 10. My flight got cancelled, the reason, oh and what a reason it was, it beggars belief. RyanAir couldn’t locate the Pilot – seriously.

Change Agent……. over and out.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Passion to create spaces for young people to grow

Recently I have had the privaledge of travelling to Sweden with my colleague Lisa and Ken from YMCA England and Wales. The main aim of the study visit is to learn about social enterprise that takes place in YMCAs across Sweden with a view to taking key tunes back and implementing them within YMCA Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Is it social enterprise/enterprise/social or something else?
This has been one of the questions we have been asking and wondering since registering our interest for the trip. How is it different to what we do in our YMCA? Is it more than what is on paper? The answer is it's a bit of everything and sometimes it's not strightforeward to put it neatly into a box. The  big thing that comes across is their passion for young people and their passion for creating spaces for young people to grow and making it happen so they have an impact.

Hotels, holiday camps, festivals, skateparks and sports
Various projects create capacity and space for the young people to grow. Some of the projects such as Kom Hotel ran by YMCA Central, Stockholm are straightforward enterprises to generate income to run the organisation however there are opportunities for young people to get involved with leadership programmes to grow in the hospitality industry which has lasting impact for future careers.

Some prospects such as basketball are the foundations on which the YMCAs such as JKS have been built. Memberships and grants have helped an organisation grow from 1945 to an otgnaition today that have over 60,000 participants each year. Basketball is s social enterprise project they generates enough funds through membership as grants  to break even and allow others who are less fortunate in the community to play basketball for FREE. But Basketball has become much more than that in the community it is a way of life and has made a community of many cultures and backgrounds inclusive so young people and grow. Not only in basketball but as leaders in their community to make life for everyone better. The chairman of JKS is only 26 but his story is truely inspiring thanks to the opportunities the chairman before him made possible through his own passions for making things happen for young people. Basketball has also changed the community by helping to found a community 6 week summer festival that turns over £2.4 million. Again this could be classsed as a social enterprise as it generates opportunites for the community to take part for FREE. How? By raising funds through grants and sponsorship from local businesses. How have they've accessed this amount of money? By taking time to build their relationships with key organitions and learning from their mistakes. Did it come over night? No it has taken 7 years of hard work and dedication but their passion and support of each other has helped them 'fill big shoes'.

Youth leadership - social project or social enterprise? 
One of the most interesting things that has come out of the trip has been how much Sweden YMCAs put emphasis on allowing young people to grow thorough leadership whether it's going on youth leadership programmes to work in summer camps or training young people to support in projects or involving young people in the design of spaces. All the opportunites availabile are giving young people the chance to 'fill big shoes'. But importantly because the young people they are involved in decisions they use the services to their full potential.

One project 'Calm Streets' that isn't run by YMCA but another organisation that has developed out of a YMCA called Fryhuest trains young people to become role models in their community to keep the streets a safer place. These young people then go out into the community with the project to keep the streets of Stockholm safe at night which is paid for by the transport department. Surplus generate from this contract goes back into the programme to allow more young people the chance to go through the programme. This is values to both the young person and the community.

If we invest in young people in this way this project and many others also has potential across our YMCA and others across the world but we need the same passion and patience that YMCAs have here to make it work over a period of time.

What can we learn ? 
- Passion
- Patience
- Investment in youth leadership
- Involve youth in creating their spaces to grow

'We create spaces for young people to grow' - we also need to give our organisations room to grow into big shoes!

Enterprising the way we think

Food for thought...

As we reach day 2 of of the Sweden study visit, it has been fascinating to explore the way in which our colleagues in Sweden see social enterprise and how this drives their work with young people.  We couldn't have started this without 'Fika' , the traditional morning and afternoon coffee and cake breaks. We soon learnt that this was a large part of Swedish Culture and certainly set a core and underlying theme behind their success. The main difference between culture and styles was space, to think, do and be. Key principles in allowing for the creation and flow of key ideas, "we create space for people" was an important key message which YMCAs could adopt, not just in their work with young people, but an approach that could be utilized within staff culture.

Social Vs Enterprise...

A further reflection has been to consider the differences between the two. For those YMCAs who are thinking more 'business minded' are we taking the time to consider whether our ventures are purely enterprise and there to create a surplus, or are we creating programmes which have a social purpose, or both? Why is this important? Well, it allows us to continue to remain focused and not mission drift. It also ensures that we remain aligned to our values, again important in culture setting and strong leadership. Finally, it ensures that we recognise successes and failures and build upon learning to be stronger and more successful,  "when programmes go down, make room for others...we build them, others follow". To be entrepreneurial in our thinking we have to allow ourselves to be flexible, we can't place boxes around everything, all of the time.

"Big Shoes"

It struck me how strong a emphasis was placed on leadership, perhaps a further indication of their success. Young people and staff play a large and important role in community engagement and this has led to long term relationships which have generated funding. Social enterprise through sport has been a huge success and has engaged  thousands of young people each year, including an annual festival where 200 young people are employed to plan and run the event, and through the provision of non traditional sports. Whilst these do not generate a surplus they provide the community with a significant amount of support and create opportunities for youth. Social and community driven initiatives have allowed YMCAs to engage positively in the community and increase their visibility. The staff, through their altruistic approach have acted as positive role models and this raises the aspirations of their young people..isn't this what  its all about in the end? Our Swedish colleagues have a great saying "give them too big shoes they have to fill" which is all about giving young people responsibility and watching them grow. And finally I wanted to end on this quote which I felt every YMCA could relate to "the door is open, but not wide open, you have to know how to open  the door yourself". This is an empowering message which we should be delivering to create resilience individuals and a thriving community.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Change Agent Global Gathering, Portugal

We’re just over halfway through the YMCA Change Agent’s Global Gathering at YMCA Setúbal, in Portugal. There are 149 young leaders from YMCAs representing 49 countries.

While I have been reconnecting with those I met at our regional training in Avignon (read my post about this), I have been discovering new stories about the people around me and hearing from those around me about the impact, challenges, and work of the largest youth movement in the world.

Outside the Portuguese Parliament in Lisbon
We have participated in workshops delivered by World YMCA, YMCA Europe, the Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs alongside a programme of workshops and sessions led by Change Agents working and volunteering at YMCAs around the globe.

What has really stood out for me is despite the vast differences in what our different cultures would traditionally find acceptable and familiar, and the potential for barriers in communication that this presents, there is an overwhelming amount of understanding and respect that is unifying us.

A contemplative moment
The other night after dinner YMCA Setúbal arranged live music for us, and while I started writing this blog, I looked across the outdoor area and noticed that regardless of our backgrounds  people were dancing together, cheering, laughing, sharing their experiences and stories as if we had all been working together for years.

We also spent time in different parts of the region undertaking activities supporting the local environment, clearing invasive vines, improving community spaces and historical monuments, in the heat of the Portuguese sun it was hard graft but impressively in three hours - as a collective – 19 days was given back to the local community.

Social impact volunteering in the local community to benefit the environment.
Since we arrived, Johan Vilhelm Eltvik, Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs, has spoken to us about YMCA’s journey and the untold story of injustice towards young people and the Portuguese Government’s Secretary of State and Minister for Youth and Sports welcomed us to the country. We’ve attended workshops on everything from how YMCA India engages young people in Global Citizenship; YMCA’s 2018 World Challenge; YMCA Norway's Stop Poverty campaign; YMCA Victoria’s Bridge Project in Australia, working with young offenders to support them into employment and much more besides.

Alongside this, the seven English Change Agents have also been presenting on Civic Engagement, our mental health campaign #IAMWHOLE and sharing information about our work in Birmingham, Derbyshire and Sutton Coldfield.

English, Scottish, Swiss and Greek Change Agents in Lisbon.
Karina from YMCA Fairthorne Group, who trained as a Change Agent in the previous cohort, has been supporting the facilitation and getting up just that little bit earlier than most to make sure people start the day the healthy way!

Today we visited the Portuguese Parliament, in Lisbon, welcomed by politicians from all the political parties. They hosted a panel presentation, where Change Agents put questions to them on how they are empowering young people, and what more can they do.

Cultural evening and party
While we are not yet finished I want to extend warm thanks to the staff and volunteers at YMCA Portugal, and especially YMCA Setúbal (notably Antonio and Tiago). Also to my colleagues and friends from around the world who have made this experience of discovery and learning so far such a poignant one. Over and out, more to follow once I return home.

Monday, 14 August 2017

From Stoke to Geneva and the World

From Stoke to Geneva and the World.

Swiss flag flies with Jet d'Eau on Lake Geneva
World YMCA is proud to support four key areas of advocacy to support its goal of empowering young people all over the globe (Health, Environment, Employment & Civic Engagement). These areas involve a ‘World Resource Group’ where leaders and young people share best practices and knowledge to succeed in spreading and supporting YMCAs global youth empowerment impact.
YMCA North Staffordshire

That’s the world, but a little bit about me and maybe, why me? I started in humble beginnings volunteering in my local YMCA (YMCA North Staffordshire) buttering up sandwiches for young people. Eight magnificent years later here I was in Geneva, sitting at a table at World YMCA, meeting with other YMCA leaders from different areas of the world and also in attendance was World YMCA Secretary General, Johan Vilhelm Eltvik. For more than a year, I have been privileged to call myself a YMCA Youth Ambassador. It is a role that has taken me to noteworthy events and places of global importance with an overarching goal of advocating on behalf of all young people.
Back - (Daniel, Myself) Front (Carlos, Lisa, Johan, Nader Lloyd) Outside World YMCA
The next step of my YMCA journey was to join the World Resource Group for Civic Engagement and through my years at YMCA, I have produced a strong passion about young people; how young people engage civically in their local and regional community in addition to their involvement with democratic processes. All the above has been strengthened through my visit to the United Nations ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York as well as attending a World YMCA Programme Innovation Camp (Youth & Parliament).

Swiss National Day celebrations
After a manic rush that preceded my landing in Geneva, I was finally there. From the airport to our meeting point, I was greeted in central Geneva with a carnival atmosphere – literally. Fireworks, people in the streets singing and dancing, a park full of people hovering around a large fire and a small concert. Clearly Geneva and Switzerland put out all the stops as they knew I was arriving, all the fuss wasn’t for the fact it was to celebrate Switzerland’s national day, it was just my welcome party. 

Why play one traditional Swiss horn, when you can play two
Geneva to the World 
We all arrived at World YMCA full of vibrant ideas and concepts that can help shape the way YMCA impacts and supports young people to engage in ethical social action, such action that develops and strengthens young people but also the communities and societies those young people live. We are a small, but growing group, Nader (Middle East), Lisa (USA), Daniel (Mexico), Carlos (World YMCA) & Lloyd (Africa) and I (Europe). We all support and advocate Youth Empowerment: To give youth the platform and tools they need (whatever that may be, depending on the young person’s starting point) to feel needed, trusted, and able to believe in possibilities, to further trust themselves to lead and believe they can make a difference, thereby becoming a change maker in the world. 

Stand and Deliver
The question may be simple but the answers are not, how do we get young people to engage civically? We didn’t converse around a table to make young people see civic engagement as a tokenistic opportunity. We deliberated on how young people need to be better equipped to create positive change through ethical action and how we (YMCA) one of the largest youth organisations in the world can aid young people to achieve that feat. 

A photo in the room, if ever we needed inspiring - 1894 YMCA Jubilee Celebrations at Windsor Castle, England 
It is early days for this Resource Group, but the journey has started. YMCA has a proud and strong history which has created the foundations for present. Now I look to the future. The future is uncertain, the future always will be, however with young people being active in creating positive change, I am optimistic that the future will be a positive and inclusive one. My fellow colleagues and I will take an active approach in making sure this is achieved – buckle up, I’m ready!! Are you? 
Sir George Williams

Friday, 30 June 2017

Change Agent Training in Switzerland - a tale of tents, hikes and an awful lot of rambling.


Beth Mather - Change Agent - YMCA Bolton.

Here is my blog about my recent experience of Change Agent training in Zurich, Switzerland. I'm sure there will be many entries giving you a detailed account of what we did and discussed, so I will try my best to focus on what stood out the most to me in my wonderful experience.

As I finished work at my YMCA the day before my departure to Switzerland for my first international round of Change Agent training, I was filled with nerves, excitement and most of all curiosity. Having attended a few international trips in the past, I was sure I knew the basics of what to expect - as you'll read further down I was definitely wrong.
 My journey was surprisingly hassle-free, travelling on my own for the first time I was sure that I would miss a flight, or end up in a different country entirely! But I made it! Albeit, a sleeping bag short, but that was sorted relatively easily.

When I arrived in Zurich, I was greeted by some fellow Change Agents from YMCA England - Jess and Hannah - and we made our way to the YMCA Centre in Zurich. This actually turned out to be the first test of the trip, turns out none of us were that capable of following directions, but at least we got a nice look around Zurich!

Arriving at the centre, we were greeted by Adi, from World YMCA, and scouts from YMCA Switzerland, and had the opportunity to say our first hellos to the other change agents. Looking back it's surprising how quiet everyone was, that certainly didn't last long!

Our beautiful camp!

Amazing new friends <3
The whole group - what a beautiful bunch of people!**

Then began the first hike. Now, I like to think of myself as quite the capable hiker - I walk around an hour a day for my journey to work and also go on walks through the weekends, but the extra weight from my over-packed bag may have tipped me over the edge a little (or maybe it was the few too many beers I'd treated myself to at the airport... oops). Regardless of my near heart failure - I made it! And the camp was absolutely breath taking! We were able to put our bags down, and then were split in to groups to either set up tents, collect firewood, or complete other tasks that would keep the camp up and running.

Throughout the rest of the trip we had the opportunity to get to know each other, the work YMCA's from across the world do, and discuss how we can all work together to fight youth injustice and make the world a better place for young people.
We did this mainly through talking whilst we hiked, which was a great opportunity to get to know people we hadn't yet had the chance to speak too, and also learn from each other and become inspired through the struggles and triumphs we all face in our work.

There are two particular moments which really stood out to me in this trip, and I would like to share them with you.

The first was our hike and experience of the lake in Zurich. I was able to talk to some extremely inspiring and fascinating people during this walk, learning about issues young people face around the world and the amazing work the YMCA is doing to ensure these young people have the best lives and experiences they can possibly have.
 At the lake we had a barbeque and also had the opportunity to go for a swim! Well, I paddled due to my lack of confidence in my swimming abilities. I like Switzerland and everything, but drowning there didn't seem that appealing - so a paddle was fine. Whilst we were eating, I took a look around the scene that surrounded me. Here I was, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by people who were all extremely passionate about and united by one organisation - the YMCA. There is something incredibly special about that for me, passion is a very strong thing to have, and once you find a passion I believe it is important to hold on to it with all the strength you have, because true passions are few and far between. The gratitude I felt then was incredible, I couldn't believe that I had been given this opportunity, and I was (and still am) so so thankful to everyone single person who played a part in to getting me to where I am today. Particularly a youth worker from Bolton YMCA who met me 10 years ago, full of teenage angst and ridiculously coloured hair, and who showed me (and still is continuing to show me) just how amazing the YMCA is. I do not think I will ever be able to thank him enough for this.

The second moment of the trip that really stood out to me was the 'friendship fire'. In this exercise, we sat around a fire and each had the opportunity to get a stick and three leaves. Each person stood up on their own and dedicated the stick to someone who wasn't there, and who had helped them in their journey. The leaves were meant for people who were in the circle with you, and who had really made an impact or inspired you over the past 5 days.
 At first, I found this exercise incredibly difficult - I had met so many amazing people... how could I possibly narrow it down to 3?! It seemed like a truly impossible feat - so I sat and watched as people stood up and expressed their own experiences from the weekend (I did eventually complete the task, had to split a leaf in half though!). Noting people who had made an impact on them, and most importantly highlighting the strong friendships that had been formed in a matter of days. It was incredible to see, and so emotional. I watched people who had struggled with their confidence towards the start, stand up in front of 50 people and talk about their experience and emotions, feeling a sense of wonder that so much can happen in 5 days.
 Now, 5 days can seem an awfully long time when you're having a bad week at work, or even when you are faced with 50 strangers from around the world, but by the end of those 5 days it's clear it really is just a drop in the ocean that never seems to last long enough. There will always be one piece of work left incomplete, or one person you wish you could have spoken too more. But that is the beauty of being a Change Agent in the YMCA. In September, we will all meet again to laugh and create memories, but we will also meet 150 other people who will also share this incredible experience, and I am eternally grateful for this opportunity.*

* As a side note - Any one who has met me and spoke to me knows I ramble - it really is a talent - a talent that clearly comes across in blog form as well! Either way, I hope you enjoyed my account. I thought it better to stop writing before my global link post rivalled war and peace in size.

** Cannot for the life of me sort these pictures out, so apologies for the awful layout!

Thank you for reading! Big love to all, God bless  💕