„YMCA Europe is a working fellowship to strengthen movements where people grow in body, mind and spirit.“


5th July 2017

First story of "This is YMCA - This is us" campaign belongs to Paul

Many years ago when I was growing up in Scotland, around about the ages of between 8 and 10, my brother and I, and another two friends formed a gang. We were called "The Jewel Scheme Rhubarb Gang". We used to go into the large country park, quite a walk from where we lived, searching for the sweet edible plant called rhubarb. Then we'd bring it home to my mum who would use it to cook rhubarb pie. Delicious. But it was difficult to find, and sometimes we would come home empty handed.

Then one day, by a stroke of luck, we discovered that there was an old (well, to us he was old, but probably around 50) who lived with his wife in a big house nearby, with a large walled garden. And behind that tall wall there were dozens and dozens of large rhubarb plants! Only ten minute walk from our apartment building! Oh joy!

So, at the age of 9, I became a "criminal". As the nimblest and fastest of the four members, my job was to scale the wall, drop down the other side, pull up the rhubarb and throw it over my shoulder and over the wall to where the other gang members were waiting to catch it. Within seconds, my activity would set off a dog barking next door, which would alert the owner of the big house. He'd come to his kitchen window and see rhubarb flying through the air. I'd look up, see him, and flee the crime scene. On average I'd have about 20 seconds to get in and out. Enough time to get around 10 stalks of rhubarb. Never once got caught.

Anyway, we moved away from that area to another part of town. My rhubarb thieving days were over. I entered the academy and became a good student. At the age of 15, my friend introduced me to the local YMCA, which previously I had never ventured into. At age 16, I became one of the "junior leaders" of the Youth Club. At age 17, I went on my first exchange trip to the YMCA of Schweinfurt, Germany. At age 19, I was nominated by my association to represent the Scottish YMCA at World Camp 91 in Camp Cosby, near Birmingham, Alabama. Anyway, I had a blast. I would represent Scotland again 3 years later at World Camp 94 in Houston, Texas.

On my return to Scotland from World Camp 91, I became one of the youngest directors in the history of my local association. I attended my first meeting, and guess who was there? Yup, the old man from the big house with the delicious rhubarb. Of course, as he had only ever seen my little backside scrambling over the wall, I was sure he didn't recognize me. His name was Jim. Anyway, over the next few years, I got to know Jim very well. He was a well travelled man and would tell me about his many stories about his journeys overseas. He had visited 161 countries around the world!

I was now getting involved regularly with Olsztyn YMCA in Poland, working with a man named Adam Rychlik. I took a group of 7 boys and 2 girls from my local association to their summer camp in Mazuria. It was a lot of fun.

Activities in Poland. On the 3rd row John and Patricia Knox (That time Mr. Knox was the Secretary general of YMCA Scotland) and Adam Rycklik - 2nd from the right on the 2nd row.

An activity: „Capture the flag" in the summer camp in Mazuria

Prior to this I had also participated in the YMCA European Games in Norkopping in Sweden for the European YMCA Youth Games. I was part of the Scottish team for football. We were gawd-awful. 0-9, 1-7, 1-9, (if I recall). However, in the same dormitory room was the Denmark handball team. They asked me to join their team for the quarter final as they were a player short. They had lost a couple of people to either injury or sickness. I had never played handball before in my life so they gave me a crash course. We won the quarter final, but lost the semi final. It earned me a bronze medal. It was the first and last time I've played handball. Yeah, Jim loved listening to my adventures and experiences....

A photo of Paul in Sweden in 1992 - the European YMCA Youth Games.

Sadly, in January 1996, Jim passed away, quite suddenly, aged 71. I believe he was polishing the wooden pews at his local church when he suddenly died. I spoke at his memorial service, held in the same church. There was a huge turn-out, including some people who had travelled from overseas. A few months before Jim died, I was chatting to him in the café at my local association, which was Bellshill and Mossend YMCA. Now that we knew each other well, I decided to confess about stealing the rhubarb. It went something like this.

"Jim, about 15 years ago, do you remember there was a kid who kept stealing rhubarb from your garden?"
"Aye I do"
"Well it was me".
"Aye, I thought it was you. And every time I came out the house to tell you that you were welcome to help yourself to it, you kept running away!" He then went on to tell me that as a young lad, he and a few others from the boy's club used to steal coal from the nearby police station to keep the YMCA building warm in winter!

James "Jim" Love

Anyway, that's my story about me and my memories of the great man James "Jim" Love OBE, President of the European Areas of YMCAs 1975-1981, President of the World Alliance of YMCAs 1981-1985.

PS. After Paul sent us his story, we have looked for more info about James Love and with the support of YMCA Scotland, we are able to provide you this material.

We are convinced that you have at least one story of this kind that shows this influence in your life or, how through YMCA you have changed the lives of other people yourself. Do not keep these treasures just for you: they are too valuable! Read more on how you can have your story published.


Author/Source: Paul Vermehren

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