January 10, 2018
When Joanna Korbut was seven years old, her father passed away. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through,” she says. Overwhelmed by grief, Joanna no longer enjoyed going to school, particularly since a bully continued taunting her. And her house didn’t feel the same — without her father, of course, but also because her mother was struggling with her own depression.
“I didn’t know where to go,” Joanna says. “Nothing felt like home anymore.”
As the years passed, Joanna became more and more isolated due to social anxiety. “I didn’t have a lot of friends because I was so shy.” But then one day, as a young teen, a friend asked Joanna to accompany her to Leaders Club at the Irving Park YMCA.
Leaders Club is a teen-led group that meets weekly — with guidance and support from an adult advisor — to improve their community and world. Teens in grades 6th-12th choose their cause based on the interests and passions of the group; play games and practice team-building activities; plan and lead fundraisers and service projects; learn from guest speakers; plan and host fun social events in the Y and around the city; learn and practice new leadership skills during mini-workshops.
Joanna’s mother, Ewa, says Leaders Club made an immediate impact. “A short time after she joined, she started being more open, more cheerful — a happy girl again.”
The club consisted of four members when Joanna joined. “I brought more kids from school,” she says. “Now Leaders Club has 13 members. We’re just like a big family.”
Today, Joanna is a sophomore in high school. Last October, we shared a video detailing Joanna’s story at the 2017 The Y. So Much More Recognition Dinner, where more than $1 million was raised to promote academic readiness, character development, violence prevention, and fitness and healthy living. Joanna was in attendance as well, pictured above with YMCA of Metro Chicago CEO Richard Malone and Dr. David McLone, winner of the 2017 So Much More Than A Volunteer Award.
“If I had never come to the Y, I’d still be that shy kid,” Joanna says. “If I could talk to my seven-year-old self, I’d tell her ‘go to the Y, because it’ll be the best experience of your life.’”
To learn more about Leaders Club, click here.