The Y is a heritage Not-For-Profit organisation that has grown alongside the Canberra community since 1941. It is first and foremost about enriching the lives and supporting equal access to good health, recreation and wellbeing programs and services for Canberra’s young people, families and community. The Y Canberra Region team is keen to ensure that universal access to beneficial, preventative health, sport, and recreation remains accessible and inclusive for all of the Canberra community, particularly at-risk young people.
Based on the Australian Early Development Census (AECD) results, our Y team is concerned that the developmental vulnerability of Canberra children is the second lowest nationwide concerning the domain of physical health and wellbeing. Like other Not-For-Profits across the region, our team is also concerned that the ACT is one of the most expensive places for children to play sports and be a member of a sporting club in Australia. Almost 50% of the Y Canberra staff are under the age of 25 and know first-hand about the cost-of-living pressure disproportionately affecting young people and at-risk populations. Healthy recreation activities, including sporting clubs, pools and gym memberships, may be out of reach or seen as non-essential when someone is trying to navigate the current cost-of-living crisis.
Intergenerational healthy habits are critical to taking the pressure off Canberra’s strained health system at all levels of care as our population continues to age. Canberra deserves more inclusive and accessible community-based preventative health programs, knowing the risks and outcomes of not providing affordable sports and recreation for young people. Our Clinical Exercise Physiology team supports this, knowing that healthy habits are formed from a young age and are essential to lifelong physical and cognitive development.
The YMCA is synonymous with sport and fitness, having invented basketball in December 1891 in Massachusetts to keep young men focused and safely engaged during winter months. The 1844 YMCA motto of ‘mind, body and spirit’ has never been more relevant for Canberra children and young people.
We would like to thank the Y NSW for supporting this mission and running the local leisure centres, and we look forward to collaborating with the new commercial operators. Our local Y team is passionate about the people in and around the pools and leisure centres, rather than the assets themselves, and we look forward to developing inclusive and equitable programs and partnerships that ensure accessible sporting and leisure services remain for Canberra Region residents and young people.
The Y Canberra Region was founded only 80 years ago, and was established to serve the needs of our growing Canberra community, extending now from ACT to NSW. The traditional owners of this broader Canberra region, the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, and Ngarigu people have continually lived and cared for this land for over 60,000 years.
The Y’s in Australia have aligned under the mission to build a better world, with and for young people.
“To be true to this mission, we simply cannot progress without commencing this important reconciliation journey, in working with and for our First Nations local communities.” said Kirsty Dixon, CEO of The Y Canberra Region. “This inaugural RAP for the Y Canberra Region, is timely, in supporting the Y’s vision to promote and advance justice, peace, equity and human rights for all and follows the important position by Y Australia to support the Voice to Parliament and Constitutional recognition for First Nations People.”
The Y Canberra Region is proud of our community partnerships, and know that in order to achieve real and lasting change, it requires these genuine connections with our local First Nations people.
Through our connections, the Y Canberra Region has partnered with several community organisations and programs, such as The Ngunnawal Bush Healing Program; Aaron Chatfield of Dreamtime Connections; Rayne Huddleston of Urulah Cultural Art; Kippax Community Tracks to Reconciliation; and SBS Inclusion Training.
We have also worked closely with local Elders in consulting with the cultural significance of Camp Sturt, a site that the Y Canberra previously hosted school camps on.
We are excited about enhancing our current partnerships and also creating new linkages with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and organisations in commencing our reconciliation journey!
The Y Canberra Region launched our Reflect RAP at the Y Sailing Club on June 15th.
The artwork that has been created for our RAP and for the Y is by local Ngunnawal/Wiradjuri artist, Megan Daley.
Megan spent her childhood in Wiradjuri country in Wellington NSW before moving to Canberra in 1999. Her art is reflective of the two environments she calls home. She is passionate about Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing and childhood development, and works as a child and family worker with the ACT Government. More of Megan’s artwork can be found at the Burrunju Aboriginal Corporation.
Megan Daley, Ngunnawal Artist
“Winyu” means “Sun” in Ngunnawal language.
This painting represents a child an a parental figure standing in the glow of the sun together.
This painting speaks about the special connection between adult and child, and the role of sharing knowledge and the responsibility to pass on culture to the next generation and ensuring that we instil culture, values and knowledge in our youth as it is as precious as gold.
The white curved lines in the background represent the passage of time and how learning is a lifelong journey that we take together with our young ones. Sharing, learning and growing.
Communities Flourishing, 2023
Megan Daley, Ngunnawal Artist
Communities Flourishing represents the work of the Y Canberra in connecting communities in the ACT Region and across Australia.
The colours are the well-known colour palette of the Y – red, orange and purple. The central figure shows a child with two other figures, representing parents, siblings, friends and significant community members. It also represents a single
person as they pass through the stages of their life as part of our community – from children, to adolescents and seniors.
The figure is then surrounded by their extended community providing support and connection, and handprints surround this to represent working together supporting with a helping hand.
The central figure is then connected to two pathways representing communities sharing resources, and also connecting to the central figures to provide knowledge and care to the community.
Gum leaves are shown here to represent new growth, with the gum blossoms representing communities and their ability to thrive when provided adequate support to be their very best.
After more than three years at the helm, Torrien Lau has resigned as Chief Executive Officer of the Y Canberra.
“Torrien has been a committed leader of the Y, leading us through a global pandemic, the most challenging of times, and has executed his role with immense professionalism, compassion and dedication”, said Elisabeth Judd, Chair of the Y Canberra Region.
“While the Board was disappointed that he was unable to continue in his role we understand and support his decision to be with his family and express our deep gratitude for his service and leadership”.
After a robust recruitment process, the Y Canberra Region is now delighted to announce the appointment of Kirsty Dixon as its new Chief Executive Officer!
An experienced CEO, senior executive and advocate for supporting children and young people to thrive, Kirsty is passionate about universal human rights and believes in the power of early intervention childhood programs to support the best life trajectory for young people.
“Kirsty brings significant experience in overseeing children’s services, youth programs and place-based community services”, said Elisabeth Judd. “Her background in the not for profit sector, and in particular her work with children and families across a range of communities make her an excellent fit for our organisation.”
Kirsty has worked in complex service delivery across government, health, early years and the human services sector for over 20 years and has experience working in human rights-based global movements.
Most recently, she has been the CEO of Play Matters Australia, and has held senior leadership roles in Mater Health and the Australian Red Cross.
A dedicated learner, Kirsty also has qualifications in Business and Health Science and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Harvard Business School. She is particularly passionate about the role not-for-profits play as leaders in making a difference in local communities.
“The Board is looking forward to working with Kirsty as she leads the Y Canberra into its next chapter and we warmly welcome her to team.”
Currently in Brisbane, Kirsty is excited to make the move to Canberra – a region she has visited regularly over the last decade with her close family residing here. She is honoured to be part of the Global Y movement in building a better world for young people.
“The Board would also like to thank Andrew O’Neil, Y Canberra Chief Finance Officer, who has been acting as CEO during this transition period. We are grateful to him for his continued deep commitment to the organisation, it’s mission and values, and to our staff”.
Kirsty will formally commence as Y Canberra Region’s CEO from the 15th of May.
Len started by handing Sam a stack of memorabilia – photo slides of Y market stalls, a little book about the YMCA’s founder George Williams, newspaper clippings from the Canberra Times, pamphlets, annual reports – items he has saved from his many years with the Y community. Sam placed her phone on flight mode and with the recorder set to start, settled in for a trip with Len down the Y memory lane.
Len sits back and says, “well, I’ll tell you how I joined to start with.”
“I was at tennis one night, walking down a street in Brisbane past the Y there and I thought to myself ‘what’s this all about?’ I eventually joined one of the clubs that they had for young men at the time – the Triangles Club.”
That initial interaction with the YMCA was just the beginning.
Len started his working life as an electrician with a company that picked up a job to rewire the entire YMCA Brisbane, and they put Len in charge. In the meantime, Len’s involvement with the Triangles Club expanded and he became the Charter President of the Wise Men’s Club, who were a group of men working to support the YMCA.
It was while rewiring the YMCA in Brisbane, Len had an epiphany. “Suddenly something struck me. I’d been led through all those things for a reason.”
Len discovered that the Young Men’s Secretary at YMCA Brisbane had left, and so he marched into the General Secretary’s office in his electrician’s overalls, claiming that he thought he could do the job. The General Secretary evidently thought so too because “from there on, that’s what I did.”
Len joined the YMCA Brisbane in 1958 where his time was spent working with the clubs, organizing camps for young people, community events and spreading the name of the Y. He recalls Joyce being involved in this journey, often coming on camps with him and helping out.
Len was with the YMCA Brisbane for 5 years before he ventured north to a little YMCA in Rockhampton for another 5 years. After this, Len was then asked back to Brisbane, and before long headed down to Melbourne (after some self-proclaimed soul searching) to join the National team.
Len joined the YMCA National team as Associate National Secretary and Director of the Victorian Region to do leadership training, liaising, and Government lobbying. He also represented the YMCA on the Youth Council Victoria, of which he eventually became the chairperson, and where they also formed a taskforce on youth employment. Len says this project was “one of my babies.”
“Moving out of the local scene into a national scene gives you a whole different perspective.”
“Yes, and meeting all sorts of people from around the world – sometimes it just blew your mind away!”
Len stayed in Melbourne for 8 years before making the move to Canberra to be the Deputy Executive Director. “I didn’t like the title too much because it was ‘DED’” he says while chuckling at the memory.
Len says that he was ready to move out of National and “get things done” so the move to Canberra was well timed. He carried on with the employment initiatives as the government was giving out grants at the time. After 2 years, Len stepped into the CEO role from 1979 – 1984 here in the Canberra region.
Len remembers the YMCA Canberra differently to how it is now. Back then, our main centre was located on London Circuit in the city, housing a lot of recreation spaces. They had also built a new youth centre in Woden, and we had centres in Belconnen, Jamison, the Corroboree Park Youth Club, Narrabundah, Yarralumla, Kambah and then of course, Camp Sturt.
Len also remembers it being a tricky time with some of the previously needed youth residences not being utilised or necessary anymore, so he had the difficult task of assessing the building and negotiating with government on what to do with it. Fortunately, Len negotiated that the Y would release these buildings in return for taking over a gymnasium space with equipment.
Len remembers having a great leadership team in place for that venue. “I really wanted to get sponsorship for kids who couldn’t afford to get a place in the camp. That was my passion”.
Len proudly states that even though his CEO role ended in 1984. He remained involved in the Y Canberra Region and is still a member!
“Well, I think it’s giving the opportunity to draw out what young people don’t know they’ve got sometimes. You encourage, it’s all you can do, so they can see that there is so much more to life. I’ve seen people grow on that basis.
“I’ve always said that we are in the people business, therefore we are there to give people opportunities to be better than they think they can be.”
Len gratefully reflects that he has had “a great life, I can tell you. I haven’t regretted anything.”
1953 – Joined the Triangles Club at the YMCA Brisbane.
1957 – Became the Foundation President for the Jolly Y’s Men’s Club.
1958 – Len joined the YMCA Brisbane as the Young Men’s Secretary.
1963 – Len ventured North and was appointed as the General Secretary of the Rockhampton YMCA.
1968 – Came back to Brisbane for a brief time as the Executive Officer.
1969 – Len moved to Melbourne to join the Y National team as Associate National Secretary and Director of the Victorian Council.
1977 – Len moved to join the YMCA Canberra as Deputy Executive Director.
1979 – Appointed the CEO position of YMCA Canberra until 1984
2002 – Len was awarded the Order of Australia
Len was a YMCA staff member for over 27 years, after he left the Y Canberra in 1984 he continued to be involved with community events and is a Life Member of the organisation.
Before the Federal Government stepped in on Thursday with new COVID Disaster Payments, the Federation of Ys in Australia jumped in, contributing $200,000 to purchase enough $50 Coles vouchers for all affected Y staff in Victoria. 100% of the funds were donated by Ys outside of Victoria who instantly identified that geography and borders didn’t matter and that our people came first.
“It just felt right and it’s as simple as that,” said Torrien Lau, CEO of the Y in Canberra who was the first to offer support to the Victorian Ys when they shared their situation and voucher support plan.
National CEO Melinda Crole said she was “super proud” to be part of the Y and highlighted that this was an example of a Federation working at its best.
“Last year the CEOs of the Y came together to create their own Statement of Commitment to each other and future generations of the Y, and this week, once again, they demonstrated our heroic, creative and nurturing values and commitment to each other,” she said.
In Victoria, the Y delivers programs and services in 200 plus locations in settings including camps, community recreation and sporting facilities, swimming pools, childcare and early education, schools, kindergartens, youth services and youth justice facilities and disability services.
Most of these operations are significantly impacted by the lockdown, and thousands of employees have lost shifts for the entire 14-day lockdown period. Given this is the 4th lockdown, like so many other businesses hit hard by the global pandemic, and as not for profit, it becomes harder and harder each time to recover from these extended lockdowns.
“The resilience and determination of our people is why we bounce back,” said Melinda Crole
Coles also provided the Y with a 5% discount on the purchase of the $50 vouchers for staff, and the Y’s own merchandising business YGear offered affected staff a significant discount on all products.
“The whole team in Victoria is overwhelmed by the support shown by other Ys in Australia,” said Carolyn Morris, CEO of Y Victoria.