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YMCA of Medellin volunteer gives youth access to a brighter future

Daniel Correa wearing a YMCA t shirt and smiling in front of a lake

Happy International Volunteer Day! In celebration of this day to recognize the amazing work that volunteers do, in our communities and around the world, we present the story of Daniel Correa, a YMCA volunteer who started an inspiring program at our partner Y in Medellín, Colombia.

Near the YMCA of Medellín, many children who grow up in poor neighborhoods are not encouraged to dream. Why do so when only the wealthy can access universities, and the poor are destined to work low-wage jobs or even join armed gangs?

Daniel Correa is dedicated to ensuring that youth have another path. That’s why he started PreunYcom13, a program that provides university preparation education for free. In 2005 he began to give classes in logical reasoning. The YMCA of Medellín gave him space and support to start up the program, and 11 years later, Daniel’s efforts have impacted over 2,000 youth. Apart from teaching skills needed to pass the entrance exam, Daniel and his fellow teachers are telling youth for the first time that they can follow their dreams. “We tell the students that we did it, you can do it too,” he says. “Now it is possible to access these other spaces.”

Esperanza Monsalve, manager of the International program at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, explains that in the YMCA of Medellín, programs are run and led by youth volunteers. “They are participants, but they are also leaders creating the programs,” she explains.

Daniel believes that the leadership skills volunteers receive at the YMCA are an essential part of growth. “There are skills and competencies that one doesn’t learn in university,” Daniel says. “In the YMCA there are spaces, there are programs, there are people that allow one to gain these skills.” Those who graduate from the program and go on to study often return to help teach classes. Through this experience, they are able to gain skills in public speaking, negotiating, leadership, and more.

While the YMCA exists in 115 different countries, the YMCA of Greater Toronto has a special partnership with eight of them, including the YMCA of Medellín.

“For us, a partnership is something that goes two ways,” Esperanza says. “The YMCA of Medellín has an amazing model for working with youth and empowering youth, and we want to learn about that. They develop really conscious leaders, and it’s a long term process rather than one that happens in one day.”

Daniel is continuing his development by volunteering in the international department at the YMCA of Greater Toronto. He believes he too has much to learn from the partnership. “Through volunteering here I have learned that there are other means, other alternatives to be able to give back to the community,” he says. “Not just through workshops, but permanent services.” Though he leaves in April, he affirms that the partnership will not be over; rather, he says, “apenas empieza” — it’s only just beginning.