On November 8, Charlie Smith, Senior Mental Health Youth Engagement Worker, was awarded ‘Young Leader of the Year’ at the national YMCA Youth Matters awards. The Young Leader of the Year Award recognises a young person for their ability to make a real difference in their YMCA by bringing about positive change, working with vision and inspiring others.
Charlie was praised by judges for her drive and determination in breaking down damaging stigmas and raising awareness of mental health issues. She has been instrumental in growing YMCA Norfolk’s Mind Matters team, and in completing her training for Mental Health First Aid she has driven the project forward and developed close links with local charities, schools and churches.
Charlie’s passion for youth work has not stopped in Norfolk and in her role as Youth Ambassador for YMCA England & Wales she has travelled all over; delivering the positive mental health message globally. Charlie has attended a YMCA conference in Switzerland and delivered a training session to other YMCA staff and Youth Ambassadors, as well as speaking at the UN in New York about the role young people should play in decision making. We spoke to Charlie about her time with YMCA and asked how other young YMCA staff members can follow in her foot steps:
Hi Charlie. How long have you work with YMCA Norfolk, and for what period of that time have you been involved with YMCA England and Wales?
I have worked for YMCA Norfolk for over 5 years. I first got involved with YMCA England and Wales about 4 years ago when we received the original funding for Mind Matters. After the success from the project I then got involved further with them as a Youth Ambassador and started attending events to raise awareness of our project. These events included speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral (to a big crowd!)
What inspired you to become involved in the wider YMCA movement?
I love working for YMCA Norfolk so was excited to know that there were so many other YMCA’s out there to explore and find out what impact they had on their communities.
What has been the highlight of your YMCA career?
There have been so many great things but I think the best one is going to New York as a Youth Ambassador. I got to go to the UN and even speak in front of many around the importance of young people in decision making. That was just amazing!
What are your future plans?
To continue to work hard to increase awareness of Mind Matters and the work that we carry out to ensure that all young people receive the help they require around mental health and wellbeing. I also aim to still work with YMCA England and Wales as a Youth Ambassador in every way I can!
What advice would you give to a young YMCA Norfolk employee looking to become a youth ambassador/work with YMCA nationally or internationally?
DO IT! Why wouldn’t you?! Working as a Youth Ambassador has opened my eyes to how great the YMCA is around the world whilst also improving my own confidence, belief in what I can achieve and building skills in public speaking and working alongside various nationalities. The travel opportunities are pretty amazing too! So yeah, do it!