Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
Last August, I participated in the Back to School Parade at First Creek Middle School in Tacoma. This is a fun event, where the school district, the families, and community partners come together to create a festive atmosphere for students returning to school. It is also a celebration of the great partnerships that exist at First Creek, which have truly elevated the school experience for students and families. The results for these kids have been extraordinary – higher grade point averages, fewer absentee days, and reduced behavioral incidences. The Y partners with the Tacoma School District at five middle schools in a community learning center model, which brings organizations into the school to surround kids and address their needs. They understand that success in school is multi-dimensional and requires a comprehensive strategy.
I attended the parade with Association Teen Director Chris Spivey. When you attend a community youth event with Chris, it’s like being with a celebrity. The kids are thrilled to see him and clamor for his attention. Chris is their mentor. He knows each kid by name and takes time to understand their life and circumstances because he cares deeply about the welfare of youth. He is passionate about giving kids the tools to be successful.
When I see Chris interact with them, I appreciate the power a caring adult has in a young person’s life, like the impact my mentors had on me. When I was in seventh grade, Pete VanArsdale, captain of the high school basketball team, was a caring adult in my life. At the first high school game I ever attended, I watched Pete hit the winning shot to defeat the number one team in the city. He was my hero, but more importantly, Pete cared about me. He showed up on Friday nights at open gym to work with me on the fundamentals of basketball as well as the fundamentals of life – every week for two years.
Despite graduating four years earlier, Pete came to cheer me on at my last game. It meant a lot to me to see him in the stands and that simple gesture of just being there had a tremendous effect on my sense of self-worth. Pete liked to challenge me and after the game, he offered me a new challenge – to invest in someone else’s life the way he invested in me. Showing a young person that you care leaves a lasting impression. I know, because I experienced it firsthand.
When I started working at the Y, I discovered the desire to help others was at the core of the organization – and not just for the staff. Over the years, I’ve met countless members who had a life-changing experience as a young person in the Y and wanted to pass that gift on that gift. Those members inspire me with their passion for mentoring the next generation.
A few years ago, I received a phone call from long-time member Ricardo. He played in the original Noon Hoops basketball league at the Tacoma Center YMCA. Ricardo knew a young man, Matt, who was in desperate need of a healthy environment. He was constantly getting into trouble with the law, but Ricardo saw something in this young man and thought the Y could help.
When I sat down with Matt, it was easy to see what Ricardo saw. Matt had a ton of energy and enthusiasm, but his energy was not always positive and he often got into fights. When Ricardo was younger, he was a lot like Matt, but people at the Y took the time to guide him in a more positive direction. He was hoping Matt would have the same experience.
Matt loved basketball, so I asked him to help referee and keep score for our youth basketball league. At first, he had trouble recognizing that the league was for the kids and for not him, but with some guidance, he began to enjoy helping out on the court. I stopped in from time to time to watch him work with the players on their fundamental skills. It reminded me of when Pete coached me. I saw the kids’ faces light up when Matt taught them how to dribble and shoot, but I knew from my own experience that skill development was only a small part of it. The kids received so much more because of Matt’s interest in them – confidence, a winning mindset, and a sense belonging.
Matt lives in Oregon now and still volunteers at his local Y. He keeps in touch through Instagram. He says helping young people keeps him focused on being positive and productive. Seeing Matt grow up and become a caring adult for other kids gives me hope.
Mentorship does matter. Spending time with kids demonstrates to them that they matter and that someone cares about them. On May 1, the YMCA Center for Community Impact, which is our Y’s community outreach branch, is hosting its annual Mentorship Matters Breakfast, where we’ll share stories of impact and raise money for programs like the Community Learning Centers. I hope you’ll join us in supporting these programs.
Our Y is committed to serving youth in under-resourced communities. Working with the school district, the Y plays an integral role in surrounding youth with a broader net of services. So far, the results have been astounding, but there’s more we can do. A caring adult can change a young person’s entire life, helping them see a positive direction for themselves and guiding them to reach their goals. Mentorship definitely matters.
Join us at the YMCA Center for Community Impact Mentorship Matters Breakfast on Wednesday, May 1 from 7:30-9am: