Get the road Jack! – Stories of Empowerment

Date: 23 July 2013

YMCA’s around the world are giving space to youth in their communities to grow and realize their potential. We have countless stories of individuals being transformed into skilled, confident young people having a huge positive impact on their communities. This is  one of these stories as told by Change Agent Jack Ahearn:

‘My journey began in the YMCA around 4 years ago. There was a family breakdown, as well as the local authority making it very difficult for me to live at home. Initially I was aware that when I turned 18 and finished college my Mum would lose her benefits if I stayed at home, so the plan was to attend university. I applied for a beautiful university in the north, and was accepted. However when it came to it, I struggled with the concept of moving away due to leaving my Mum and sister who are my only close family. I ‘sofa surfed’ for a while, going from friends to friends, struggling with depression and desperation to cure the relationship with my Mum. Also suddenly having no responsibility was odd, being used to education all my life, to suddenly having nothing to do was torture! After a while the sofas ran out, and I felt my relationships with friends breaking down also. I just felt alone. I was unaware of what benefits I was entitled to so I went to the local authority for advice. They were very unhelpful, being sent from one place to the next, given the same dismal answer that being 18, there was nothing that could be done for me other than move into a hostel. The thought of moving into a hostel daunted me, you hear about what goes on in hostels: Hardcore drugs, crime and anti-social behaviour etc. I felt like I was hitting a brick wall until someone suggested the YMCA, which I had briefly heard of, and was apprehensive to walk past, let alone go there to seek help.

The YMCA was the best thing that happened to me during that time and the future that came afterwards. From first moving into the housing, I recognized the sense of family which I had craved all these months. I was in awe by the work the Support/participation staff did with young people, and when I saw the buzz through the building I was eager to get stuck in straight away. My second or third day I was asked to go to a theme park with some staff and residents to help build a relationship with the other young people. This was the first time the YMCA invited me into its safe environment where I was given space to develop.

From then on I formed a close relationship with the participation team, engaging, assisting and volunteering. Day after day my passion grew and grew, until I attended Regional and National events, in which I was amazed by the scale of the YMCA and the work it does. In this process the YMCA let me meet other people in the same situation as me, and it always gave me new opportunities to grow. Because of this I was transformed and it helped me realizing how I can help create positive change and give back!

It went up and up from there, locally I became part of the team, volunteering in projects and having active roles. Regionally I became involved in a project raising the awareness of HIV/AIDs and involved going round England delivering workshops to various YMCAs, as well as designing and producing a resource pack to encourage other YMCAs to train young people up to deliver the same workshop. I was gaining more and more skills until I became confident enough to run projects alone at my YMCA. I was regularly involved from a local scale to a national scale.

When I moved out of the YMCA, I secured a full time job, however this didn’t stop me using all my holiday to part take and assist in various YMCA activities… I was hooked! So to my ultimate delight a post became available in the Youth Engagement team at my local YMCA, which I was successful in.

Finally I was able to help and engage young people like I had once been, and I was taught by the best! I did have natural confidence, but the YMCA taught me how to use that in an effective and positive way.

The moment I think it became part of my blood, part of my DNA, was when I attended my first international conference. I was absolutely shocked and in awe of not only how huge the YMCA is, but how diverse the work that is done. I was really encouraged when I saw YMCAs helping people all over the world whether it be with gang crime, poverty, the chance to engage in activities they would not have the chance to normally, global issues, power issues etc. The people I have met continue to inspire me today, and it is amazing how everyone has their own unique story, which has impacted me and many of the young people I engage. Since then I have continued to be involved internationally with Roots for Reconciliation, desperate to create positive change. Also I have and continue to adore being involved with Ten Sing. My Ten Sing group is like my baby, the reason and passion behind it is so unique, and the international scale and support again is phenomenal.

The YMCA has empowered me and it has let me realize my potential to empower others and to impact my community in this way. I am now in a position where I am very knowledgeable about the YMCA, and educate everyone I know about it, and the work it does! I will be part of the YMCA for life, and I am connected now, part of the family. And what better way to do this than by encouraging what I do best, youth empowerment!’

By Jack Ahearn, England