YMCA Connects Young People at the Second National Youth Retreat


In its second year, a taskforce of Change Agents (a YMCA leadership development program) ran and facilitated the retreat in order to connect, celebrate and empower young staff and volunteers across the Y. YMCA WA was represented by two Change Agents, Martin Johnson and Natalie Woloszyn, and three delegates; Alana Christidis (Youth Advocate), Shenae Smith (HR Support Officer) and Caitlin Garner (YMCA Bunbury ELC Centre Director).

Below is a reflection article by Natalie Woloszyn, YMCA Change Agent.

Talk, listen and take action.

Three takeaways which came blaring from the voices of nearly 50 young people at the 2019 YMCA National Youth Retreat. A retreat, in its second year, I was privileged to run and facilitate with the Change Agent taskforce to connect, celebrate and empower young staff and volunteers across the Y. 

Have you ever seen a room full of young people? High chance the answer is a yes.

So, let me rephrase.

Have you seen a room of nearly 50 young, diverse, passionate and inspiring young Australians come together to connect, engage and actively take part in a youth inspired movement? 

Over the last five months, I had the opportunity to head the communication, media, branding and design of the retreat along with facilitating in workshops and talks. Through this, I walked alongside the young people to empower them to project their voice within the Y.

Having said this, the journey wasn’t easy, challenges were inevitable but adapting, learning and witnessing firsthand so many passionate young people speaking up, voicing their opinions was rewarding beyond words.


So, what did I learn?

I learnt, we all think the future is overwhelming, the climate crisis, jobs and mental health, are only a few things which are constantly on our minds.

I learnt young people have always had a voice, they just need to be listened to. How we need to listen to what they have to say and to collaboratively work smarter together.

I learnt, although we have many opportunities for young people, we still have so much potential and room for progress, there are countless ways to bring young people to the table. We should be purposeful and direct, ensuring transparency with decision making.


Over three intense jam-packed days, we had many motivating keynote speakers, with a few resonating with me the most. 

YMCA Australia CEO, Melinda Crole, opening to the youth retreat not only set the scene with inspirational words of leadership but opened the floor to a humble welcome in 'we are all leaders’. With a few Dr Seuss quotes (applicable of course), Melinda shared her female leadership journey, encouraging those in the room to put trust in people or trust them to inspire you.

Kareem El-Ansary, Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, was able to join us straight from his national listening tour, discussing and highlighting key and concerning trends that young people don’t feel represented in the decisions being made, and the disparities between regional, rural remote young people and those in metro areas.

From this, I realised everyone in the room wanted to make a positive inclusive change, feel supported and safe, but haven’t had the opportunity to reach their potential or felt underutilised.

Youth governance was also a hot topic, with three young women, Emily Greco, Amanda Gailiss and Hannah Dunlop discussing their journey into leadership and governance. Truly inspiring to see young women taking the reigns, being humble, adaptable and making an impact at a board level. And, when you’re in the boardroom, the advice from the panel was clear – back yourself. Fearless females, am I right?

From these keynote speakers, I have become even more inspired to implement my local Change Agent project surrounding empowering young women and supporting them to achieve career aspirations.

Thank you to the inspiring keynote speakers: Melinda Crole, Jacki Whitwell, Amanda Gailiss, Emily Delaney, Hannah Dunlop, Peter Burns (YMCA Victoria), Michele Rowse, Kareem El-Ansary, Peter Burns (YMCA Canberra) and Jess Boyden.


Now, back to the title, and the message created to send to the Y movement from the young people;

Talk to us – find out what people on the ground need.

Listen to us – we want to be invited to the table to contribute, we want to connect with you one-on-one.

Take action – but reduce tokenism, increase diversity and inclusion.


Young people are powerful, but so are leaders, especially if we work together.

Above: YMCA Change Agent Taskforce


Category: Youth