Yesterday was my first day at the Kingston YMCA. I arrived around 9:30am with the Cuso Program Manager, Roberta, who is the person who has arranged all the volunteer placements and is responsible for the ‘work’ side of my time in Jamaica. We met with the General Secretary of the Jamaica YMCA, Mrs. Sarah Newland-Martin, the team of senior staff at the Kingston Y, Mr. Riley an Mrs. Taylor, and Mrs. Martin’s assistant Mrs. Perkins.  They spent the morning with me explaining the history of the Y in Jamaica (it’s their 95th anniversary this year!), the role their organization plays in the community, and the activities they would like me to be involved in this year. Mr. Riley gave me a tour of the grounds and Mrs. Taylor introduced me to the teachers and social workers that work under her. Later, I met with the chair and vice-chair of the board, who spent lunch telling me about their vision for the organization and the struggles they face. As the day wore on, I was able to join one of the student groups for a part of the afternoon. I left just after 5pm totally exhausted but full of excitement!

The Kingston YMCA offers alternative education to up to 120 boys ages 12-16 every morning, and an intervention program for at-risk 5th grade boys and girls in the afternoons. They also offer Tae Kwon Do, summer camp, leadership training, badminton, and futsal. Two new computer labs (one for students, the other for the community to use) were just donated and will be opened soon. Their two swimming pools (a 16m and a 25m) are the pride of the organization and a cornerstone in the hearts of Jamaicans – apparently 75% of Jamaicans learned to swim at the YMCA! There is also a canteen that serves a delicious hot meal (primarily for the students, who may not get anything else to eat during the day), packaged snacks, and icy cold beverages. In addition to the programs they run at the Hope Road location where I work, there is a Boys Club near Trenchtown and a 4.3 acre campsite, both of which I will visit in the coming weeks.

While the pool is in good shape (they did a major renovation to it in 2014), everything else is a little worn around the edges. Their main building, which holds a reception desk, offices, and a large gymnasium, is made of concrete block and corrugated metal. It was built in 1997 after their previous building burned down. The classrooms are in shipping containers, which are stifling hot even with the glass-less windows cut into them.

If I took away anything from my first day, it was that there is a dire need for the services the YMCA is providing, and the most valuable thing the organization has to work with is the spirit of the staff and students. I hope I can help them make a difference.