A big challenge of being the region’s foremost provider of youth development programs derives from two simple, obvious and challenging facts about young people: 1. they are all different and unique; and 2. their interests, priorities and needs change tremendously as they grow up.
At the Y, we have had tremendous impact on our youngest citizens with our extensive and highly successful early childhood work, working with around 2,000 children ages one to five through Head Start and preschool. As these children age into elementary, the Y is there for them in a tremendous way, offering before and after school enrichment programming in schools across the region, engaging camp and learning programs in the summer and myriad youth sports, swim and enrichment programs in our Y facilities. However, it has always been challenging to continue to engage young people as they age into middle and high school. Some gravitate to competitive sports, others to higher level artistic pursuits, and still others jump confidently into school-oriented leadership and community service activities. Of course, there is the issue of hormones beginning to assert themselves!
However, many young people don’t so easily find their niche in an increasingly competitive, social-media saturated and status-conscious world in which they are too often asked to excel in something before they really know who they are, what the future might hold and what the world’s expectations and norms are all about. At the Y, we embrace those young people and are here for them in more ways than ever before. We offer engaging after school and leadership opportunities in our high school-based Community Schools, an amazing Youth & Government program, counselor-in-training opportunities in our camp programs, various mentoring programs, among other programs, and have now added one more wonderful opportunity, based in our family center Ys, for what are often called “tweens and teens.”
This September we launched the Y Leaders Club here in Central Maryland. Y Leaders Clubs, a longstanding Y program across the country, were inaugurated at our Catonsville, Dancel (Ellicott City), Greater Annapolis, Pasadena and Orokawa (Towson) Ys, with the Hill Y in Westminster about to come online. Leaders Club is a program for young people ages 12 to 18 that gives them the opportunity to gain real-life, hands-on leadership experience through service learning, event planning and other activities. Currently 42 youth are participating, meeting on a weekly basis. Each meeting includes a leadership development activity and a physical education component. Each club will have four service projects a year. Two of those consist of volunteering at the Y’s Turkey Trot Charity 5K and Healthy Kids Day. The other two projects will be decided by the club members, and built from the ground up. Newly inducted members will also be registered for the YMCA Blue Ridge Leaders School (http://ymcabrls.org/). This amazing summit in the mountains of North Carolina will enhance what they work on all year, and inspire them to continue their efforts when they return home.
While we’re starting with a relatively modest cohort of 42 young people, it’s our intention to take this program to scale and make it a core youth development program over time. I firmly believe that it can help be an antidote to some of cynicism, bullying and isolation that many of our young people feel, particularly those who haven’t yet found a positive outlet for their energy and passion. Hats off to Ryan Novo, our Leaders’ Club Coordinator, for all his hard work in getting this exciting program off to a great start! Heaven knows that with all the challenges we face in the world today, we need all the positive leadership help we can get!
All the best,
John K. Hoey
President & CEO
The Y in Central Maryland