YMCA Black Country Staff Awards 2014

Last week saw the announcement and presentation of the 2014 YMCA Black Country staff awards.  I was really proud to have two of the YMCA Open Door Team shortlisted for individual categories and to have the team shortlisted for Team of the Year.

We didn’t win Team of the Year, that deservedly went to the Walsall Housing Team who have worked so hard together to overcome some very challenging circumstances this year.  Nevertheless, it was great to be shortlisted and receive a bit of recognition – the team work incredibly hard and with great ability and compassion to deliver a fantastic service that enables 50 young people to stay in safe accommodation each night.

YMCA Open Door – Team of the Year Runners Up

Unfortunately, despite a tremendous record of recruiting Host families, fundraising and all round non-stop dedication, Rachael Taylor was only runner up in the Personal Achievement category.  But again deserved recognition to be shortlisted nonetheless and it was difficult to argue with Wolverhampton Nursery Manager, Charlie, being announced as winner.

Rachael Taylor – Personal Achievement Runner Up

However, despite these slight disappointments the rock of our Wolverhampton Supported Lodgings provision, Stanley Ifamene, was crowned Inspirational Colleague of the Year.  I was utterly delighted with this.  Stanley really is one of the most inspirational and exemplary humans I have ever met.  He works hard, cares with great attention and tenderness for the young people he is responsible for and, most importantly, he lives out every part and every moment of his life through his faith in Jesus.  He encourages me every time I see him, inspires me to greater performance and approaches every situation with a desire to give honour to God.  He is a true hero.

Stanley Ifamene – Inspirational Colleague of the Year Winner

It was a great fun evening.  The company was top quality and it was good to be reminded of the effective and wide reaching work that YMCA Black Country Group is responsible for.  The positive impact and influence of the organisation seems to be growing and building on the firm foundations of past generations.  The other award winners were James and Hashan who both work with great effort and enthusiasm in Aleksa’s nursery, and Tony who has worked persistently and tirelessly for years making sure the place doesn’t fall apart.  The final award was a Lifetime Achievement award for Board Members Eric and Brenda Moore who have given about 60 and 40 years voluntary service respectively to the YMCA.  That really was an inspiring and fitting end to the awards.  Looking forward to next year!


Self Harming Black Swan

I don’t watch films with a purpose of getting myself freaked but Black Swan made a pretty fair effort.  Who would have thought a film about ballet dancers could be so dark?!  I think that shows how little I appreciate ballet.

I was uncomfortable but it was a brilliant film.  I really respect that it deals with self-harm so vividly and disturbingly.  Self-harm is so often glorified in teen culture but in a film full of confusing hallucinations and psychotic episodes the only thing you know is real is the pain and self-mutilation.  The message is clear, self-harm is destructive.

As adults in the 21st century we need to understand that self-harm is endemic.  It is impossible to know how many children and young people try to hurt themselves.  However, according to a quick survey of mental health websites it is likely that well over 10% of teenagers will self-harm at some point in their adolescence.  And it is not just teenage girls.  Increasing numbers of boys are deliberately harming themselves and the issues linger on into adulthood for many, it is just that adults are more tactful when it comes to hiding their actions.

I feel that as responsible adults we need to keep our eyes open for the signs of self-harm, especially among the teenagers we have any contact with.  At the YMCA we have provided self-harm and suicide training for many of our Supported Lodgings Hosts and they have found it useful in there personal lives as well as when providing support through the YMCA.  There are loads of organisations out there with information and good advice.  A few good places to start for resources are Childline,  Young Minds or the National Self Harm Network.

Lucky Boy I Am

I’m breaking up for half-term today.  I remember at school the last day before any holidays was AMAZING.  You just couldn’t believe your luck that you were gonna get a week, two weeks or even……six weeks off!  Well today I have a trace of that feeling somewhere…..I’m about to break up for a whole week!

But, even though that means 9 days before I’ll be back at work I’m a little perplexed.  Work takes up so much time and energy that it’s gonna be strange not going in and definiately against my current thought wiring not to be thinking about work.  But it will be really good to ‘switch-off’ from it for a while and re-focus on a couple of more important things.

Another reason that I’m it doesn’t feel quite exciting as it used to in Year 8 is because I actually quite like work.  In fact I love it.  I wake up in the morning and look forward to getting into the office, seeing colleagues and meeting families and young people.  Lucky boy I am.

The start of the day

Yesterday at work was alright.  I made it about a tenth of the way through my to-do list and a few annoying things came at me but it was ok.  A friend really encouraged me sending me a Bible verse, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  I felt quite peaceful during the day although it was hard work.  Didn’t particularly anticipate returning today.

Now it’s 7am.  I’ve got some chilled music on and enjoying surfing through some blogs and looking forward to a nibble of breakfast.  I could stay here all day…….


………good job I wasn’t designed with comfort in mind!  Bring it on life!

Tony: I’ve lost my family

A 16 year old boy moving from hostel to hostel then gets a council flat.  He hasn’t got a clue.  This BBC3 documentary was one of the most tragic things I have ever seen.

He has no family, one friend, no job, debt, challenging social skills, can’t do ANYTHING for himself.  Hardly understands ANYTHING about the world.

It’s lads like that that my work at the YMCA is aimed at, aiming to provide a room in a family home with a bit of structure.  I found this film a real challenge to what I do.  The kids are more than just stats.  Tony has so much character, personality and a creative streak.  And deep, hidden somewhere inside him there is a drive to survive.  Young people are great.

There’s some really positive twists at the end but there’s a long tough road ahead for him.

If you fancy watching it you can catch it on BBC iPlayer.  Well worth an hour of your time.

The Journey

Run out of the house sometimes as far as Richmond Road but that depends how late I am.  Then it’s a brisk walk the rest of the way to the station and up onto the platform just has the train pulls in, timed to perfection.

Standing amidst the others, earphones, computer games, mobile phones, newspapers, books, sleep…anything to avoid communication with each other but we’re so close.

Pull through Moor Street and Snow Hill and the train is empty now.  I choose a seat, row in front, row behind, two empty seats to my left.  Nobody will come near my little cocoon now.  I need my space it is an oasis.  Choose a song, to chill, to think, to reflect, to enjoy.  Close my eyes, 6 minutes of heaven.

Off at The Hawthorns and hurry to the tram but the clock says there’s 3 minutes to wait.  6 minutes later, feeling deceived and wounded by unpunctuality I am sitting back with the crowd but a more common crowd of friendly black country faces and accents not the stern office workers of the city anymore.  But there is still the void between us as we travel.

The walk from the tram is too short.  Less than two minutes.  But I’m there now.  My oasis is far behind but the interaction begins.  Cleaner, receptionist, resident.  All willing to talk, a community.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…take off!

This afternoon is the official launch of my project, “YMCA Open Door“!  My hard work of the last three months is being focused on one and half hours of mingling and presentations.  Mr Mayor is gonna be there as well as some big wigs from the council.  I am sort of looking forward to it and I think it’s gonna be ok but i’m nervous about two things:

  1. Can I scrounge enough heaters from around the YMCA to heat our freezing dance studio where the launch will be held?
  2. What shall I do about the Mayor cutting the ribbon?  What ribbon should I use?  Where should it be?  Should there be any ribbon at all?

Small things you may say but for some reason I am more nervous about them than I am about putting on a good show and delivering a top notch speach.  Someone suggested wrapping two traffic cones in silver paper tying a ribbon between them but I am not sure!

If you read this please spare a prayer for me, it is all happening at 1.30pm.  Thanks!