Mililani YMCA Revives Youth Leadership Program


Akira Pescador

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA, especially following a prolonged period of isolation due to a certain global pandemic. As the world becomes more accustomed to in-person gatherings, the YMCA plans to revive their Youth Leadership Program in the coming weeks, with their first introductory meeting taking place on December 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“So, at first it’s going to be kind of just a comfortable place, making sure that people are willing to come in and hang out. And then over time, kind of getting more into those outreach programs, getting that really valuable experience,” said teen and aquatics director Eric Tutje. “I know a lot of people are interested in working with kids, this is a great opportunity to get those volunteer hours for that, get that experience, see if that’s something they’re really interested in.”
Since the creation of the Youth Leadership Program decades ago, the program has expanded beyond providing set options for service projects and activities, allowing students to create their own options. One purpose of beginning the program with the establishment of a casual and comfortable environment is to encourage the sharing of one’s personal interests and passions, beginning the brainstorming process for future endeavors. For example, those interested in becoming fitness trainers or sports coaches may lead activities in the YMCA weight room.
“Yeah, so Shelby Seu was involved in the program as a middle schooler that used to be a club. The reason the program has been going in the past is because of the people involved being very passionate about it, not the people running it as much as the people on the frontlines,” said Tutje. “And her being in high school now seeing the need, seeing people needing something like this, getting away from their phones. Really connecting again, in person. She’s felt it personally how much she misses a program like this.”
Mililani High School sophomore Shelby Seu is commended by Tutje for her involvement in the program’s revival, taking a major part in the planning and advertising of the Youth Leadership Program. While Tutje is officially placed in charge of the program, he emphasizes that the direction of the club is ultimately influenced by the youth involved. In other words, it’s run for the students, by the students.
“I was actually born and raised in the program, kind of. I’ve been attending the YMCA since infancy. I’ve been in programs for A+ after school program, the teen program at the time here, which is junior leading, and then became a group leader in A+, and then eventually started working in the teen program,” said child care director Brandon Chesebro. “And now as a youth director now, I’ve just spent my whole life in the YMCA, and I just like what the YMCA does for people.”
Not only is the Youth Leadership Program about service and leadership, but forming connections as well. In their YMCA experience as teenagers, both Chesebro and Tutje formed lifelong bonds with friends they still talk to in present day. In fact, through the YMCA, Chesebro and Tutje were given opportunities to travel and meet fellow teenagers at YMCAs in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, where Chesebro helped rebuild an elementary school.
“it’s just harder in my experience to get that outside of the Y. Like, there’s something magical about here that makes you comfortable,” said Chesebro.
As of now, the YMCA Youth Leadership Program is only accepting high school students, although middle schoolers will eventually be able to join. For more information about the Youth Leadership Program, email Eric Tutje at [email protected] or visit the YMCA located across the street from Mililani High School.