Change Agent blog: The YMCA’s secret ingredient

Date: 17 January 2024

Global impact, leadership and innovation: How the YMCA empowers young people

By Nicole VairHeadshot of Nicole Vair

Everyone comes from a different place and has a unique story to tell, and the YMCA is a part of so many stories around the globe.

My Y story began nearly a decade ago, in August 2014, and the impact the Y has had throughout the last 10 years of my life is beyond measurable.

As a recent graduate from a liberal arts university on the east coast of Canada, I jumped headfirst into the workforce as an intern at a provincial newspaper. When that internship was ending, I stumbled across an opening in marketing and communications at my local YMCA, and I have been on an amazing journey ever since.

Becoming a YMCA Leader

In 2016 I was given the opportunity of a lifetime and joined 19 young professionals across Canada to be a part of the YMCA Young Ambassadors Program (YYAP, a Change Agent programme). Learning about leadership and social inclusion from partners around the world – I discovered innovative approaches to implementing welcoming programmes and spaces for all. The Change Agent programme opened my eyes to a new form of communicating and showcasing impact in a way I had never experienced before.

During my time as a Change Agent, we completed an exchange to Bogota, Colombia, for the global Youth Summit of the Americas. Not only was I connecting with colleagues and volunteers across the Americas, but I was witnessing firsthand how the YMCA adapts to the communities it serves.

There is no cookie-cutter YMCA. And while the organisation has an advantage in being able to learn more about YMCAs across the globe, it also has a special ingredient that is driving real impact. What’s the ingredient?

Ensuring everyone it serves belongs.

Serving each unique community

This requires adaptation as every city, town and neighbourhood has unique needs. I discovered how the YMCA was so much more than a place for health and wellness, but rather an organisation that healed communities and made them stronger.

Fast forward to 2024, and the YMCA is still part of my story today. And although I have not been an
employee for the last five years, since 2019 – the YMCA is still a big part of my life.

I am fortunate to be involved in the next generation of Change Agents and volunteer as a Team Champion and Mentor for Cohort 5.0, guiding young professionals in their leadership journey. My team recently returned from their own exchange in Bogota, and hearing their experiences and watching them grow has been truly remarkable.

Their growth can be seen through their interactions on a personal and professional level. Many members of my team have stepped outside their comfort zones to share ideas and solutions with senior leadership within their YMCA or through their schooling. Each Change Agent has also expanded their global mindset. And they’ve showcased new adaptability skills as the programme progresses.

They are inspired to create impactful change and eager to use what they learn to implement initiatives and challenge roadblocks to get things done. They have a passion for their work that creates purpose not only in their individual lives but also in the lives of people around the globe.

These leaders all bring different skill sets to the table. They all come from different backgrounds,
communities, cultures, and countries. What they share is a  common goal to be and to lead the
change they want to see.

Thanks to the YMCA, they have the space to come together and drive that change forward.

About Nicole Vair
Nicole is a marketing and communications professional with nearly a decade of experience. A Mentor and Team Champion for this year’s cohort of Change Agents, she currently works for Envision Saint John: The Regional Growth Agency. She is passionate about brand storytelling and has led marketing campaigns for the YMCA and Horizon Health Network. During her time at the YMCA of Greater Saint John, she was a member of the National Brand Council for YMCA Canada.