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


19th September 2017

My YMCA Story started when I was a young school student, during the YMCA Setúbal Summer Camps.

In 2003, twenty years later, I finished my graduation in Clinical Psychology and I did a training course in Human Resources by the local Employment Center. This was when my way crossed again with YMCA, this time as a volunteer. My role was to support and mentor childhood teachers in the Community Center, as well as help them during their work with vulnerable kids from a social neighborhood in Setúbal, called Bela Vista.

By that time, I had the opportunity to meet the ACM | YMCA Setúbal founder, Dr. Mário Pereira. We talked a lot about holiday camps and children needs. At the same time, I found my first job in a financed government project named "Choices" that was about adolescence risk prevention and where I worked as a youth worker with immigrant teenagers, of second generation of lusoafricans. After 8 months Dr. Mário Pereira invited me to apply to the same project, involving YMCA. Then we managed to present a project regarding basic school certification, plus a training in social animation and leadership. Unfortunately, that application was unsuccessful.

Dr. Mario Pereira

Despite that I stayed and made a professional internship in an open space with computers aimed for the community in our headquarters. This was something uncommon and completely new in that period. It was a success and lot of kids and youngsters from the neighborhood had the chance to learn more about this new reality.

The space in 2015...

Meanwhile, in 2005, I found an empty space in very bad conditions and with the help of young volunteers we rebuild it and create a new Youth Center for young people. Originally the space had rats and cockroaches on the floor and bullets marks in the windows. I and my colleague Ricardo Crista an art teacher volunteer, we have painted walls with multiple colors, we reuse trash cabinets and as an example, decorated them with black and white comic prints.

The space after the renovation

We called it "Espaço Triângulo" or Triangle Space in English, and put in practice everything that the red triangle is about: empowering young people through intellectual, emotional and physical activities. The "Espaço Triângulo" was ready to open in 2006 and quickly we start to have 80 youngsters per month. We start to work in arts, using mostly reused materials, combining different techniques like plastic arts, street art, multimedia, performative arts and dance.

After 10 years in this project I received an invitation to work at our Headquarters. The challenge was to lead a Youth Center and work with my colleague Renata Barreto. This Center was targeted to teenagers and youngsters from 15 to 25 years old. Also during this period I participated in my second abroad program at the YMCA network, organized by the YMCA Romania Federation called "Empowering Youth, Strengthening Communities". Hosted in Cluj Napoca and coordinated by Alina Pop that program made me feel for the first time part of YMCA World movement. That was what inspired and motivated me very much to develop new competences and see new perspectives and non-formal methods to work with young people.

During the "Empowering Youth, Strengthening Communities" in Cluj Napoca, Romania

I've been in some international programs in the past 2 years and recently I was invited to be part of the planning team of YMCA EUROPE "Leadership Academy". This moment was very important to me because I felt it like recognition of all the work we have been doing in the last decade amongst young people.

Recently we were hosts of the WORLD YMCA Change Agents Global Gathering at YMCA Camp Alambre with 155 young leaders from 49 countries. It was an amazing experience and the most important event of my life. I think I grew up professionally in terms of team communication skills and dealing with stress and operational technical management in the field. It was very important providing the best experience for this young leaders life in a way they will never forget. Together we can be the change for a better world, with human rights, equality, equity, respect, environment responsibility, acceptance of cultural differences, care and love and a lot of fun! Oh... that's the YMCA values that I know. I needed to add this paragraph to my story, because the event has finished.

Also this year we were selected the Most Diverse activity during YMCA World Challenge 2017.

I really like my job as a Youth Center Coordinator because it is very diverse. One day we work directly with a youth worker, next day we are making/writing a social project, organizing events or doing some video edition, (I am an amateur). We have the space to be creative and independent. What moves me is when I see a successful kid that I have met when he was almost a baby and now he is an adult with a life project, committed and empowered I feel proud to know that me and my team did something to help him and have had a role in order to make him a better person. I think that´s the best achievement we can have.

For the future, I want to create more opportunities to young people and give them more chances to go abroad, have new experiences and meet new people. We must seize the opportunity that the Global Gathering has given to us and create a new Yleader group using our young coworkers. We have a diner together in 2 days to discuss informally in an open space all the ideas. So that a good base to start with a new methodology. Maybe one day, a new opportunity in global scenario to Empower Young People will show up and if we fight for it, we will get it.

This article is part of "THIS IS YMCA - THIS IS US" Campaign.

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: Joao Moura - Setubal, Portugal

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