Kergen, 22, on how the Y’s young people are spearheading innovation in COVID-19


Image: Kergen Angel at a YMCA youth event

The Melbourne CBD had an anxious busyness to it on the afternoon of Thursday 19 March, which my memory has been underlaid with the sound of an upset beehive.

The words ‘COVID-19’ had whispered into the media and accounts of people having confirmed cases were staining the newspapers. No lockdown had been announced yet, but our collective consciousness all knew something big was coming.

I got the call that I and most of our team in Youth and Disability Services had been stood down as I was walking my bike up Elizabeth Street from a youth conference in the afternoon.

There was no easy way to say it, the decision had been swift, and I knew, kind of like how I knew that would be my last time in the city for a while, that it wasn’t just our team, either.

Life needed to change fast. My next week was spent working out how to use Zoom meetings, adapting to online university classes and plotting out my finances without work. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in retrospect I was at serious risk of mental, physical and moral exhaustion adapting to the changes.

Fortunately, there were some brilliant minds busy at work building a new framework for social engagement at the Y. And I honestly don’t think I would be in a strong enough position to keep getting out of bed each day without them.

The online initiatives, which are hosted in a private Facebook group with 800 young Y volunteers, were developed by our dedicated Volunteer Development team, who had stepped up straightaway to volunteer their support for young people. Over the weeks, everything from morning breakfast clubs to cooking classes, makeup tutorials to Mario Kart games, Auslan classes to resume coaching, began to spring up online.

Our volunteer community, brought together initially to support young people, was leading the charge in innovating ways to support each other. And the impact was massive in numbers as well as in helping to build the resilience we were all desperate for.

What I saw was an innovation wave that our volunteers weren’t just riding but making.

Within weeks, this formed the basis of what was coined ‘Y-Solation’, weekly Facebook livestreams from the YMCA Victoria page to reconnect our community.

Amidst all of this, confirmation that this year’s YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament, a program I run alongside 17 other politically savvy young people, was continuing. This bizarre scintilla of abstract positivity had remained in the chaos, despite the program’s traditional success centred on two residential programs in May and June-July.

It became my role to not just run this program but to innovate this program in a way not seen in its 34-year history. And oddly enough, when you get 18 young people who range in interests from engineering to international relations with a joint passion for empowerment, they make things work.

Together, we are in the middle of redesigning our training program to be delivered and facilitated online, totally geared towards maximising engagement. In blue-sky meetings, everything from the postal service to virtual backgrounds were considered for hitting key program outcomes. Young people fail to disappoint, time and time again.

Now, in the middle of all of this, I am seeing the true power of inspired young people. Who, not bound by money, come to the aid of the community, and who are aspirational enough to take risks, pioneer brilliantly into the unknown.

It’s my privilege to see the spearhead of social change come to fruition at the Y and I know that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

Written by Kergen Angel, 22

Y-Solation is a series of Facebook livestreams by young people for young people during COVID-19. Join us every Friday for sessions on cooking, fitness, arts and crafts, music, trivia and more!

Be sure to check out our Keeping well during COVID-19 article a range of resources on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing, stay social, and keep fit and active during this period.