Have we got name tags for everyone? Where are the speaker bios? Do we have enough snacks?
These were just some of the hundreds of questions that were asked in the lead up to the National Youth Retreat (NYR). As part of a team of 7 incredible Change Agents and supported by the Office for Young People and Community Impact, the 2nd YMCA National Youth Retreat was held at Merricks Lodge on the Mornington Peninsula, on the 20th - 22nd November 2019, for close to 50 young people.
Working in a team distributed across the country, separated further by different time zones was one of many challenges we encountered, in designing the retreat. Technology wasn't always on our side, our daily roles sometimes took precedence and emails in the communal inbox either got doubled up or missed completely. Occasionally spelling mistakes were found after documents were finalised and consolidating information to send to delegates in a timely manner added additional pressures.
Working in a team that had finally come together, after months of preparation was a feeling of relief as well as pressure, as now we had to deliver the retreat. Despite all our planning there were times when communication fell short, tensions ran high, and emotions were tested. We each kept on brave face as limits were pushed but despite what we individually experienced we pulled it off!
Working in a team of people, we had successfully delivered and facilitated th retreat. We had done it! We had become a collective of passion, drive and empowerment. A group of friends who had created space for young people to discuss matters important to them, voice their opinions and build new networks. We opened channels for access to executives, explored leadership in a variety of ways and made time for a message to be crafted to later be delivered to YMCA Board Members, CEOs and Executives.
I didn't get the chance to engage with as many of the delegates as I would have liked, but when I did, the challenges I'd faced faded into the background. The unconditional support offered by newly formed friendships, the excitement as program ideas were shared and the respect, passion and wisdom of the delegates blew me away. I could feel the yearning for understanding and connection to the organisation, the desire to be at the table for decision making processes and the need for multi channelled communication. This passion proved to me that the NYR was not only needed but desired by the young people of the movement.
The following day, during the YMCA Deliberative Forum, I reflected on a similar experience in September, the National CEO Forum and Design Jam Workshop. As Change Agents we were fortunate enough to be invited along to both of these collaborative events. My mind wandered… imagine if we could have similar forums and workshops specifically designed for all young staff and volunteers to network and collaborate together? A chance to grow personally and professionally with access to similar experiences that we as Change Agents did. By this stage the exhaustion of the past few days had set in, as a moment later I realised young people did have this opportunity. The National Youth Retreat.
The retreat was designed to connect, celebrate and empower young staff and volunteers from across the YMCA. We had given young people the chance to share their ideas in a safe and welcoming environment, to collaborate and connect with staff and volunteers at various levels throughout the organisation and better understand the movement.
The message that came out of the NYR was powerful. Young voices asking the movement to respond to the call to action, to invest in collaboration and focus on inclusion in strategic decisions. Yet, there is still more to be done, and more young people to connect with. However, the delegates of the 2nd National Youth Retreat put forward the notion 'We ask you now to stand if you're prepared to take action, to connect with us and find solutions together.'
Taking a step back and listening to the six young delegates read out the key messages from the Youth Retreat was heart-warming, empowering and inspiring. I am so proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to be part of such an incredible experience. Thank you to everyone who made the National Youth Retreat such a success, your hard work and passion is truly empowering!
by Change Agent, Tanya Mischler