Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Different Kind of Spring Break

Liz Simpers led the YMCA Spring Break Mission Trip that was featured in the May 17 News & Observer. Here's a brief interview with the Cary Family YMCA Teen Director.

Where did you go for Spring Break?
We took 40 high schoolers to Washington, D.C. to participate in work with the homeless through an organization called YSOP (Youth Services Opportunities Project). YSOP operates in D.C. and New York City coordinating a variety of programs that deal with hunger and homelessness.


Our group made and handed out sandwiches one night.We hosted a dinner for the homeless at a downtown church and served meals at the D.C. Soup Kitchen. We worked with a group called Elder Buddies that helps to clean up apartments for senior citizens in danger of being evicted due to unsanitary conditions. 

What did you do there?
One of the most impactful things we did was to go to local park one evening and hand out sandwiches, socks, and toothbrushes to the homeless community.

Hitting the Streets

We told the kids to engage with the community, to talk to them, get to know them, ask their names, and in general, visit with them. You could see kids all over the park sitting with a homeless man or woman, that appreciated the conversation just as much as the sandwiches. Our group of high school kids, from all over the Y branches in the Triangle , learned a lot about what we have in common with the homeless, and how to have compassion for every person we meet.

What is YMCA Leaders Club?
Leaders Club group is part of a national YMCA initiative. At our Y (YMCA of the Triangle), about 100 high school students from local high schools learn what it means to be a leader in the community. During the school year, students learn more about themselves, grow together in meetings, on trips and in service opportunities. Participants must maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete 100 volunteer hours during the year.

What did the teens (and you) learn during the trip?
In DC, we got to get outside of our own little bubble and see people for who they are, not what they make or what they drive, or where they live.

We were all impacted by the reality that homelessness is more an issue of loneliness than economy. When people don’t have family and friends that love them, they are truly alone, and have no resources to support them in a time of crisis. That hit home for a lot of us, and personally made me thankful that I am loved and supported, and would have someone to turn to if I was in a financial crisis.
YMCA Teen Leaders Having Fun

Why do you work at the Y?
I work at the Y because we have a chance to impact lives, truly. We have the venue and the resources to help high school kids discover their true identity, and that is life changing. Where else can I do something like that for a living and watch the community be transformed?

You also led the TOMS walk our YMCA sponsored in April. Why compels you to lead these efforts?
In the year and a half that I have been working at the Cary Y, I've seen amazing growth that I attribute to our volunteer advisors and our kids bringing their friends and families into their lives. A vision for change can be contagious. It is obvious to me, with the success of our TOMS event, that people know they need to do more and WANT to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To be a part of facilitating that is an amazing opportunity.

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