Canadian YMCA delegation at the AAYMCA Africa 3.0 conference in Mombasa, Kenya
(L-R) Kyle Barber – President & CEO of YMCA of Oakville and Niagara, Patricia Pelton, Carlos Sanvee – current General Secretary of the African Alliance of YMCAs and incoming Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs, Craig Rowe, John Haddock, Katherine Dziedzic

The experience of a lifetime – true in so many ways!

As the Supervisor of Camp & Youth Engagement for the YMCA of Oakville, I never thought I’d be granted such an amazing experience – but I got lucky; not in the sense that I was chosen out of a hat, but that I am in an environment where I have mentors and leaders who believe in me and recognized the amazing things our Camp and Youth Engagement department are doing for our community.

A wise leader once told me that we are all 85% the same, and that the job of a community leader is not only to impact the 85%, but to find the 15% uniqueness and help it thrive. As someone from Canada who was travelling to Africa for the very first time, I admittedly was a little skeptical of this statement. Of course, we are all people with emotion, intelligence, creativity, courage and more – but 15% seems low. I can tell you – it’s not!

After spending the last 7 days with national and global leaders from nations in Africa, Sweden, Bangladesh, Norway, Latin America & the Caribbean, United States, and of course fellow Canadians, I can say with certainty that I believe this to be true. Hatred, violence, poverty, natural disasters, unemployment, political divide – these are all issues that we face globally. They are relevant issues in every single community – the difference really lies in the prevalence and extent.

As community leaders, the YMCA staff, volunteers and donors give their time, talents and treasure every day to impact change in each individual community around the world, and in many ways we are the same. Simon Sinek would refer to the “Why, How and What” of our organization.

Why? We want to support the development of people and communities.

How? Through programs and services that cater to the unique needs of the community we serve.

What? Now here’s the 15% – which is something I’ve gained more appreciation and understanding in the last week:

  • South Africa, in a program supported by YMCA Sweden, has 100% success rate in their Youth Justice program, focusing on decreasing recidivism
  • Senegal, supports the growing concern of poverty through training youth to develop small businesses
  • South Sudan supports the growing conflict in the community through integrating peace building through sport and drama clubs
  • Oakville supports the growing mental health & belonging through our Together as Girls and Just the Guys programs

We all do so much more for each community – but not a single program is created without intention and reflection – nothing is done without our ‘Y’.

Katherine Dziedzic is the Supervisor of Camp and Youth Engagement at the YMCA of Oakville. In June 2017, she won the inaugural Helene and George Coward Young Leader Award from YMCA Canada to recognize her leadership in building a healthier, more inclusive community, and commitment to fostering a sense of belonging for all. During the month of March, she is on an international YMCA experience to Kenya as part of winning the award and will be sharing her reflections in a series of blog posts.