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


24th May 2018

Hintersee was not only the place where our General Assembly took place: between May 8th and during the whole General Assembly until May 13th, Hintersee also hosted a group of 35 YMCA young people from 20 countries around Europe, for the annual YES network seminar.

Although this has been a regular occurrence since 2012, this YES seminar gathered one of the largest groups to date, and it had a very intense programme during its meeting in Hintersee. This was mainly thanks to the Erasmus+ grant received for the seminar, a great opportunity to involve a larger number of young people in this important experience.

The seminar was based on the themes identified by the former YES Board, gathered consulting the YES network and with the help of Ilenia Ventroni from our Brussels office, who drafted the Erasmus+ application with the YES Board and YMCA Germany to fundraise for the seminar. YMCA Germany organised all the seminar with us, and without their support and hard work, none of this amazing week in Hintersee would have ever been possible.

The themes identified where diversity, vulnerability, resilience and advocacy. The group, led by the YES Board on the first two themes and by the Brussels Office on the third, started by learning to know each other and forming friendships and networks across YMCA all around Europe. A very diverse and motivated group, it was easy to see how strong bonds were formed immediately among these exceptional young men and women, eager to share their experiences and to connect with everyone. The participants proceeded to work hard to identify different types of diversity in their communities, the need to work with all this diversity to make their communities more cohesive, and to make their YMCA more relevant in the process. They did so also thanks to many activities based on non-formal education, among which the workshop on intercultural diversity led by Matthias Ouwejan, a Change Agent from YMCA Nederland. The group went on to work on mental health and resilience of youth workers, a part of the seminar which many participants identified as quite needed, both in their personal and in their youth workers capacity.

The last theme, advocacy, started from youth democratic participation and the need for young people and their YMCAs to raise their voice in the public space, in defense of their values and the vulnerable young people they work for. The work was based on simulations to build empathy, understand decision making and develop better communication skills in the public space, and it linked with the previous themes of diversity and resilience as well. The group also had an opportunity to reflect on the importance of speaking up for the values of openness and tolerance in the era of fake news and hate speech during their excursion to the information center in Obersalzberg, a famous Hitler retreat that now recollects the worst aspects of the nazi regime, including the way in which the beautiful scenery and people of Bavaria were used for propaganda.

The YES group received also visits from many members of past, present and prospective members of the global and European governance of YMCA: Mike Will, our current president, Juan Simoes Iglesias, our Secretary General, Ed Eggink, our past President, Patricia Pelton (candidate president for the World Alliance) and Marilyn Kapitany from YMCA Canada. All the guest speakers talked about the importance of leadership, democratic governance and youth participation, motivating the YES group to see their importance at the core of YMCA’s mission and governance, and offering their stories and their experiences. The group was also directly consulted by Pete Buerki and Linn Sophie Kassner, some of the programme managers of the YMCA175 event, to give their direct input into the programme of the Spirit zone of the festival (more info at https://ymca175.com/about/ ), and they also got involved by our treasurer, Beate Turck, in our YMCA175 fundraising campaign (https://ymcaeurope.com/ymca-175-birthday-campaign ).

The YES network went on to participate to the YMCA Europe General Assembly, which was a very full one, with elections of 5 members of the Executive Committee and strong discussions about all programme groups: the YES participants joined their delegations and mingled with all other members delegations, living fully the GA experience and participating in our democratic governance.

The group went on then to elect its new own Board, electing Konrad Chlebda (Chair), Emily Kemp, Valerie Pronk, Veera Nikkarinen and Demi Avramidi as their new guides into the next years’ activities. This was a chance to experience its own level of democratic governance, and a very good start for the future of the YES network (read more here).

Throughout the whole seminar and GA one of the participants, Fabian Boros from YMCA Ireland, took pictures and recorded interviews and footage of people’s experiences and impressions, as part of its role as youth reporter, while also tweeting daily: stay tuned to see more pictures and the final video of the seminar!

Many people need to be thanked for this YES Seminar, without whom this great experience would have never been possible: Heike Jablonski, YMCA Germany Advisor for youth policy, in charge of the Planning of the Seminar with the YES Board and Brussels Office, tireless organizer who made sure everyone made it to Hintersee and organised the excursion; Silke Leitenberger, YMCA Germany Officer for International Voluntary Services, who took care of all administrative matters without a pause, and made sure that all matters were dealt with speedily and efficiently; Adam Rychlik from YMCA Europe, who supported Silke in her work; and the whole staff of CVJM Aktivzentrum Hintersee, who took care of the whole group and all their needs, even the most difficult ones.

It was a beautiful experience that we hope to repeat as soon as possible, and as many times as we can! Keep following the work of the YES group in our webpage and on our social media. For more info, contact  yes[at]ymcaeurope.com