Katherine Dziedzic (left) with a group of youth, volunteers and staff from Shauri Moyo Branch YMCA in Nairobi, Kenya

How do you engage youth in a mission?

This seems like such a huge question, with so many factors to consider. In my time with the YMCA, I have been fortunate to meet many young leaders from all over the world. As I reflect on my past week of meeting children, young leaders and staff from various YMCA Kenya branches, I think back to all my past experiences as well.

In so many ways, we are all so different. Some of us have passions for arts, sports, leadership development, music, camps, environmentalism, activism, social media, fitness, etc. I could go on for quite a while just naming the differences, however instead I’d like to draw attention to the most important aspect of the previous sentence: PASSION.

I have had the privilege of speaking with YMCA participants, staff, volunteers and donors from around the world. We all have something in common – involvement in the organization has helped to strengthen our individual passions, and our understanding of ourselves.

YMCAs in communities all over the world work tirelessly to support the passions of young people in a variety of ways:

  • Norway & Africa – Through the Young Advocates for Change program, where participants can enhance their passion for international work and spend time in another part of the world, making a difference in another YMCA community
  • Shauri Moyo Branch, YMCA Kenya – Through open opportunities for youth to “pitch” ideas for clubs or programs that they would like to start, and are supported in the development of the club/program through access to space and mentorship
  • Bogota YMCA, Colombia – Through music programs in some lower-income neighbourhoods, that supports the skill development of the young musicians, and an opportunity for them to explore media
  • Kibera School, YMCA Kenya – Through the sewing program, which teaches participants life-skills that will lead to a source of income for their families
  • YMCA of Oakville – Through the High School Ambassadors program, which provides participants from across Oakville with an opportunity to impact change in the community through senior leader consultations, as well as financial and mentorship support to implement a project in their school based on their passion

These are examples of but a few programs that exist world-wide that support the talents, passions and needs of the youth that they serve. Drew Dudley says “We’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it. And if you change one person’s understanding of it, understanding of what they’re capable of, understanding of how much people care about them, understanding of how powerful an agent for change they can be in this world, you’ve changed the whole thing”.

My first question seemed so large when I started on this experience 17 days ago: How do you engage youth in a mission? While not completely formulated yet, the simple answer is you don’t; as a YMCA we engage in the mission of our youth and support their passion and development through programs and initiatives that are rooted in values. That is how we support the creation of vibrant citizens in our individual communities, that is how we help youth understand how powerful of an agent they are for change, and that’s how we as an organization change our local, national and international communities.

“I’m discovering what I’m trying to find is already in these young people”
-Lantonirina Rakotomalala, YMCA Madagascar

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 2018, she participated in an international YMCA experience to Kenya as part of winning the award and has shared her reflections in a series of blog posts.

Reflection #1 – The YMCA as a Community Leader: A Global Experience
Reflection #3 – Creating a Space for Young People: A Global Experience