Building a Better Future

Date: 20 February 2013

Young speakers Gary and Vicky with Peer Mentor Jack and YMCA Youth Work Manager Jane, at the YMCA England Presidents Day Event

Two very inspiring life changing stories emerged from The YMCA Black Country Group in November 2012 when YMCA England’s President, The Most Revd and Right Hon DrJohn Sentamu, Archbishop of York, hosted a special event at the Caledonian Club London. Along with sharing his own experiences of YMCAs he had visited across England, two peer mentors Gary Clayton and Vicky Rodgers also shared their stories about being homeless and how the YMCA Black Country Group had supported them in transforming their lives.

Sadly, like so many young people today, Gary (now 21 years old) had spent his life in and out of children’s homes and young offender’s institutes. At the age of 16 he fell into a vicious circle of alcohol and substance abuse along with petty crime. There was no one to help him back on track and he quickly became disillusioned with everything life had to offer. He started ‘sofa surfing’ which is a term used to describe a homeless person who uses up the hospitality of everyone they know, until for Gary the sofas ran out and he had nowhere to go. The state of being desperate is a dangerous thing but thankfully for Gary a friend suggested he go to the YMCA in West Bromwich and as he says the day he moved into the YMCA was ‘the day the doors started opening and stopped slamming’. What followed was a remarkable life transformation as he began to embark on a new life journey through a series of programmes and qualifications that has resulted in him having just completed level 2 of a Youth Worker course. He now had a genuine reason to get up in the morning as he begins to build himself a new and exciting future having turned his life around with both hands.

Vicky Rodgers also 21 years old is another resident at YMCA West Bromwich who came from different circumstances but who after walking in, transformed her life a full 360 degrees. Coming out of an abusive relationship and with no family support, Vicky was homeless, sofa surfing and felt a burden on her friends. After arriving at the YMCA Vicky began to build up her confidence again, she was still on her own but with the support of the staff she started to feel a sense of empowerment and very quickly her life began to change for the better. She began doing voluntary work that was followed by a peer-mentor position which was finally the stepping stone she needed into gainful employment. Vicky wanted to give back what the YMCA had given to her and has started helping other young people thrive and come out of their shells just as she had been encouraged to do herself.

Gary and Vicky’s stories are inspirational in that they are very real and authentic examples of self-empowerment and evidence of young people fulfilling their potential. Stephen Bavington Communications Manager at YMCA Black Country Group who was witness to Gary and Vicky’s stories reminds us of their Vision Statement in which we need to ask ourselves ‘How can we enable young people to thrive?’ Gary and Vicky’s stories are some of the ways in which this statement lives, as he explains ‘We strive to encourage young people to become involved. Many ex-residents are now employed at the YMCA which enables them to make a genuine and sincere contribution not only to their lives but to the lives of the next generation.’

By Sarah-Jane Arnold