December 28, 2017
Wisconsin native Lauren Reed is a true Y kid at heart. She has attended YMCA classes and programs ever since her mother was pregnant with her. Today, she is still involved with the YMCA as a volunteer advisor for the Irving Park YMCA of Metro Chicago Leaders Club, a program she attended as a teen. Leaders Club is a teen-led service group that strives improve their community.
Reed’s parents encouraged Lauren to join the club, like her brother did, but she was shy and hesitant. She and her parents agreed that she would try the club for at least one month. Once the month passed, she was hooked and participated in Leaders Club all through middle and high school. “Going to Leaders School was one of the biggest, most formative experiences in my life. I feel like it really changed who I was,” she says.
At Leaders Club, youth work to create social events with a focus on service projects for the community and the Y. Members learn new skills like event planning, budgeting and marketing. The Irving Park Leaders Club participates in a network of Y-USA Leaders Clubs across Chicagoland, the Midwest and the country. Members from all over the Midwest get together at Central Leaders School, a once a year camp on a college campus for a week. Members stay in the dorms, take classes during the day, and take part in volunteer projects and social events.
Before being a part of Leaders Club, Lauren was a shy, quiet kid. She says the group was a safe, welcoming place where she was encouraged to participate. At Central Leaders School, Lauren was able to step out of her comfort zone and then she became the person who encouraged others who were shy like her to do the same.
Lauren was always thinking of ways she could stay connected to the Y and Leaders Club, even while studying dance at Butler University. After graduating from the program, Lauren went back and trained as junior staff and then became staff at Central Leaders School for the next seven years.
The connections she made through Leaders Club and Central Leaders School were crucial in making her transition from Indiana to Chicago smooth. Before moving to Chicago, she emailed people she met through the program for recommendations on where to stay in the city. A friend from Central Leaders School offered to be her roommate in the city.
Linda Dean director of volunteerism at YMCA of Metro Chicago, and staff at Central Leaders School, heard about Lauren moving to Chicago. She reached out and helped place Lauren as a dance instructor at the Irving Park Y. “The connections that I made were pivotal in helping me grow and have all these really great opportunities in my life” said Lauren.
Soon after her move to Chicago, Lauren decided to restart a Leaders Club at the Irving Park YMCA. Reed says this is her way of giving back to the program. Even though sometimes it became difficult running the program, she says it’s been really fulfilling. This is her 4th year as an advisor for the club.
Lauren feels inspired by the youth she serves, like Joanna. She has known her for two and a half years and has seen her transform. “I would never pretend to be the only reason for that. But it makes me happy to hear them (be excited about the program and what they learned) and how they apply to real life situations,” explained Lauren.
Seeing the results of the program through the youth makes her feel like she has made an impact in their lives. Reed says, “I know that the program works, I know that program can change the lives of young people. And for me to see that happening and in my group, its so fulfilling and exciting. It makes me want to keep going."
Leaders Club is an inclusive program that is open to all youth ages 12-18 (or 6th-12th grade). Meetings are year-round on Wednesday’s from 7-8:30pm at the Irving Park YMCA. Contact Lauren at LReed@ymcachicago.org for details and to attend a trial meeting.