Custodians of a 169 year old ideal

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cus·to·di·an   [kuh-stoh-dee-uhn]  (noun)  a person who has custody; keeper; guardian.

As we celebrate the 169th anniversary of the founding of the YMCA it is a good time to reflect on our personal roles within this world wide Movement.

If I look at my own experience within the Y, I’ve been fortunate enough to have held a leadership position for close to 13 years. This represents 7.69% of the current life of the YMCA since it was founded by George Williams in 1844! A speck of time and somehow, for me, it puts in place my role within the YMCA Movement.

The YMCA Movement’s history has been a long one that millions of volunteers and staff have contributed and committed to, including those of us currently engaged with the Y in Australia and around the world.

So with that perspective, I see my role, like that of all of us within the YMCA, as one of a custodian. Custodians of something tangible and intangible, never set in stone, always moving, always impacting, always compassionate and above all, always serving.

For me, my role as a custodian, in terms of our time and place within the Movement, means I have a responsibility to do my part to maintain the integrity of what is the YMCA. That means more than simply protecting the brand or good name of the Y. It means to do my best to ensure the Y remains relevant to community needs, that it maintains and doesn’t weaken its values base, that it understands and draws on its spiritual base, particularly its Christian roots and that it remains focused on its mission to provide opportunities for all people to grow in body, mind and spirit.

I’ve used the word “I” a lot in describing my role and I’ve done so intentionally because of what I see as my personal responsibility within my role as National CEO. But we are a movement of people, of ideals, of passion, with different and often competing views and aspirations for ourselves and for the Movement. That diversity makes the Y what it is!

So as custodians we cannot work alone.

It calls on us to work together, not as owners of a ‘brand’, but as custodians of an ideal, born 169 years ago, to help and provide opportunity, for all people.

Here’s to the next 170 years!


2 thoughts on “Custodians of a 169 year old ideal

  1. Lynn Spratt

    “An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal, usually in the context of ethics. Ideals are particularly important in ethics, as the order in which one places them tends to determine the degree to which one reveals them as real and sincere. ” Wikepedia

    I like the concept of “custodians of an ideal” it did however lead me to question do all Australian YMCA’s have the same 4 core values – Honesty, Respect, Caring and Responsibility and do we all articulate these values clearly. Are we actively pursuing Honesty, Respect, Caring and Responsibility as goals in all the decisions we make ? Are these values we pursue for ourselves, our staff, our volunteers, our program/service delivery and/or for our movement ?

  2. Ron Mell

    What great food for thought Lynn!
    I think your questions reach to the depth of what being a custodian is, about honouring our values within the context of what our Y’s do and the way in which our YMCA’s engage in community.
    In her paper “A Framework for Success for Non-profit Federations”, Linda Mollenhauer puts shared values as a key success factor for federation models such as the YMCAs. She says the key factors are:
    • The values inform the way that federation partners work together.
    • Federation partners hold each other accountable for living the values.

    I think the most powerful mechanism for building our values within the Y is through a YMCA’s organisational culture. Reflecting and committing to values in management team meetings, reflections at the beginning of Board meetings, leadership of staff in a fair and equitable and empathetic way are just a few of many ways in which we can and do articulate our values and measure them.

    There is always more that YMCAs can do, but I’ve no doubt our Mission and our values (our four core values and the longer version) continue to provide all YMCAs with a strong foundation upon which we continue to protect and enhance the integrity of that “ideal”.


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