There was danger for my father, as a teenager, on Chicago’s West Side. Gang activity was on the rise and recruiters were aggressively looking for young men to shore up their ranks. My dad, eldest of nine siblings, with a hard working mother and no father in the house, was a prime target. 

There was danger for kids like my father but, fortunately, there was also the YMCA. After school, he’d go to the YMCA, play basketball, hang out with friends and do his homework in a safe space. To this day, he tells me that the YMCA saved his life. It was a big deal to him, so it’s a big deal to me.

In 2015, I was looking for a place to volunteer. My husband and I had lived in Canada for a few years, but had yet to lay down significant roots. Understanding that it’s community that turns a residence into a home, I offered my math and science tutoring support to the YMCA. 

Since then, the YMCA of Northern Alberta has provided me the opportunity to help make my community stronger by encouraging students to embrace the adventure of learning. In a single session, a student can demonstrate to herself or himself that their minds can do awesome things with just a little focused effort. They feel empowered by success and an empowered mind can make proactive, instead of reactive, decisions.

How are we going to make it in this place? Families, like mine, volunteering and connecting through the YMCA, may face this question often and the answer is the same as it’s always been. Together.

So very proud to serve, 
Ali Finley