In fact each days is “Youth Day” for the YMCA. We were founded by a group of young people led by George Williams more than 178 years ago. Our profile and programmatic priorities have always focused on empowering youth, creating spaces for growth, integration and networking.
This are not only words. There is evidence of the deep involvement of young people within our movement and we have always promoted their participation not only as beneficiaries but as members of our governance bodies.
For the YMCA, young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow but relevant characters of today`s social environment. Our role has been to facilitate this involvement through actions, programmes and spaces in which their voice, needs and initiatives are listened and implemented.
YMCAs in Europe are an example of this approach. Young people serve in crucial leadership roles working side by side with other volunteers, senior leaders and executive staff. Many YMCAs and even national movements were founded by committed young people that connected with the mission and guiding principles of this movement transporting to contemporary times that same spirit and vision that our founders shaped.
Almost half of YMCA Europe’s Executive Committee is formed by members under 30 years of age, elected at the General Assembly. Youth empowerment is a core aspect within our governance body, the different programme groups, working platforms and projects. Today and each day we promote and celebrate the involvement of young people at all levels as an integral part of our Mission and Vision.
I often refer to my first steps in the YMCA when I was 20 years old and how blessed I was when mentors and supervisors provided me the tools, training and space to lead the creation of the first local YMCA in Salamanca, Spain. Through that experience I gained deep trust in this movement and also in young people´s capacity to design and put in practice institutional, social and transformational initiatives.
We have always felt that these experiences and other youth led project are highly beneficial for our movement and guarantee that our priorities and policy are always close to young people´s needs. We consider that youth remains as one of the most vulnerable sectors in society across our continent. YMCA Europe is clear and supportive of the global movement´s “youth empowerment” perspective within its governance and programmes.
Our role as a regional movement in Europe is therefore more important than ever. Realizing that our spaces and programmes must face this reality is a must. We shall call it the “next step in youth empowerment” as there is an urgent and very concrete reason for “youth empowerment” today. It starts with engaging young people with issues that affect today´s Europe and connecting them among themselves.
YMCA Europe’s adopted Strategy (2021-2026), “is designed to serve the direct beneficiaries of YMCA Europe as its members and those young people who are our indirect beneficiaries as YMCA members and as citizens of Europe”. Throughout this new Strategy, YMCA Europe aim is to “best serve National YMCAs to enable them to address contemporary challenges affecting young people”.
Juan Simoes Iglesias
Secretary General – YMCA Europe