Friends Abroad | Denver YMCA

Friends Abroad

It’s a Y World: Explore Cultures, Expand Reach with YMCA’s “Friends Abroad”

As relationships become more global, understanding the intricacies and interdependencies of the world's many cultures, communities, and people has never been more important.

This is why the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver participates in YMCA’s “Friends Abroad.” Through this unique international exchange program, our members, program participants, volunteers, and staff who are travelling abroad can visit and connect with other YMCA “Friends Abroad.” At the same time, “friends” from YMCAs around the world can visit the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver and experience our own programs, activities, and culture.  

Each program participant receives a YMCA International Pin and Information Card and is welcomed into the destination Y to exchange ideas and discover common goals. When they return, Denver YMCA friends are asked to write a brief description of the Y they visited and share their experiences with their friends at home.

Through this outreach, our YMCA travelers are able to learn about the world around them and build relationships with people they may have never met, while promoting and strengthening the YMCA values that we all share.

Become a “Friend” and become inspired

YMCA of Metropolitan Denver encourages our members, program participants, volunteers, and staff to participate in this program and reach out to YMCAs worldwide when they travel. To learn more about this learning opportunity, contact Debbie Ford.



Julie Hill Visits the Polish YMCA

A Visit to the Poland YMCA 

By DIG Committee Member, Julie Hill

I recently traveled to Poland with my husband Chris, who is a board member of the Polish Freedom Foundation. While there, I visited the YMCA of Poland and met its president, Adam Goncerz, who told me about the Polska YMCA programs, camps, and activities across its 18 branches. Visiting with the Polska YMCA was an opportunity to learn about its history and present-day activities. The Polska YMCA began when the American YMCA came to Poland with General Haller’s Army during the First World War to serve soldiers and prisoners of war. With the help of the American YMCA, Poles formally founded their own YMCA in 1923 with programs mainly focused on education, patriotism, and participation of young people. Its motto, “Serving Poland through Character, Education and Health,” was very much in keeping with the country’s needs. 

During World War II, the Nazis closed the Poland YMCA, but the Polish movement continued to work in France, England, Romania, and Africa. Immediately after the war, the YMCA restarted its activity. But after four years, the YMCA of Poland was once more closed, this time by communists. They began again in 1990 and 1991. The welcoming visit underscored how YMCAs around the world are all different, but they all include the same mission: To improve the lives of it citizens. Its a Y World.  


Meeting “Friends Abroad” In Albania

By DIG Committee Member, Julie Hill  

I recently had the opportunity to visit the YMCA in Tirana, Albania, while honoring the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of relations between the United States and Albania. The US embassy in Tirana had reopened after more than four decades, restoring the historical ties between the two countries. During our visit, the President of Albania, Bujar Nishani, awarded, my husband, Chris, for his role in reestablishing the embassy. President Nishani stated, “Ambassador Hill was the first American diplomatic representative in our country after more than four decades. The long-waited day when the US embassy was reopened in Tirana marked a decisive turning point in the restoration of historical and spiritual ties between our countries and peoples.”

Today, Albania is a thriving democracy. Here, the Tirana YMCA is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that empowers young people by assisting and strengthening community development. The Y is part of a cooperative movement of YMCA Europe with direct partnerships with the World Alliance of YMCAs. 

We met with the Y’s Eglantina Lula, sharing the Denver YMCA’s programs and ideas and discovering our common goals. Like our YMCA, the YMCA in Tirana provides services promoting health, community education, environmental and social well-being, capacity building, public awareness, and youth leadership. 

I presented Eglantina with a Denver YMCA International Pin and she reciprocated with the Albanian Eagle “flying” to the Denver YMCA. Our meeting was the first step in building friendship, support, and future collaborations between our two organizations. 




by Joe Sprague

While traveling in South Africa, I had the privilege of visiting the Soweto YMCA in Johannesburg. There I experienced first-hand the purpose of our Friends Abroad program – sharing ideas and common values. In learning about their culture, I saw a life-size, framed photograph of Nelson Mandela at the Y’s gym, where he trained as a boxer. And I had the pleasure of observing the internationally acclaimed singing and dancing group AFRICA UMOJA in rehearsal.

Moreover, I saw how this Y, just like the YMCA of Metro Denver, reaches out to bridge gaps in their community. I learned about the Y-Justice program, which engages at-risk young people and gives them ways to transform their futures. Through a Y-Zone program, they give kids positive interactions in after-school care, building their self-esteem, and providing support to single-parents and busy families. And through Y-Fit, they provide a lowcost means for people to exercise and live healthy, while raising money to support other aspects of the Y.

My visit showed me how, despite being oceans apart, YMCAs serve their communities in the same ways. It showed me that we all share values – and even memories. I met again a staff member who had been to the 18th World Council in Estes Park in 2014, and remembered the warm welcome she received from the Denver YMCA greeting committee at the airport. It made me realize again: It is a Y world.



Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina 

On June 3, 2014, I had the pleasure of meeting Norberto Rodriguez, Secretary General of the YMCA of Argentina, who gave me an overview of the tremendous work of their YMCA. I was welcomed with open arms, and he too was excited to learn about the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver.

I learned that one of the guiding principals of the YMCA in Argentina is to assume responsibility for educating the nation’s impoverished youth. The Y operates seven schools in Argentina reaching 2,500 students, and they are very close to establishing their own university. They also operate technical schools to help students prepare for and secure their first jobs.

In addition, the Y runs an intensive cultural program to develop citizenship with a diverse and global perspective based on the core values of the YMCA – justice, love, peace, and solidarity.

The Y of Argentina has two locations in Buenos Aires, branches in Santa Fe (Rosario) and Literal (Entrarios), and a proposed facility in Salta. The main facility in Buenos Aires is also the administrative headquarters. This facility features a travel agency, full-service restaurant/cafeteria, hair salon, golf education facility, two gymnasiums, and two swimming pools.

Visiting the YMCA of Argentina was an opportunity to see how the YMCA impacts local communities regardless of where they are. It was clear that, while the needs of each community may vary, the Y’s mission to improve the lives of its citizens transcends all borders. 




The Christchurch, NZ YMCA

On March 31, my husband Ron and I had the opportunity to stop in at the Christchurch YMCA in New Zealand, which was just around the corner from our hotel! What a surprise! We were able to meet with the CEO, Josie Ogden Schroder, to learn more about this YMCA. Four years ago, Christchurch was heavily damaged from a large earthquake that hit the area. The YMCA was affected and was closed for one year.

After re-opening, the board and staff were looking for ways to help the community in its recovery efforts. What came out of their work is Street Art at the YMCA. The exhibit encompasses several rooms at the YMCA and explores the growth of street art from its humble beginnings in New York to becoming the biggest single art movement the world has ever known.

They were able to recruit well-known street artists from New Zealand and internationally to share their talents. The exhibit is open every day and is free to the community. When the festival closes in May, the space will become a permanent home for street art exhibits and activities, including a 200-seat community theatre, which was another aspect of community life   lost due to the quakes. This is a terrific example of how YMCAs are actively engaged in their own communities!

Along with this new exhibit, the YMCA also has student housing, conference facilities, fitness programs, and youth programs that include leadership training, outdoor education, camping, sports, holiday programs, and more.

Linda & Ron Diederichsen