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Preston’s story: Making a difference in his community with Youth Exchanges Canada

12 April 2024 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto

YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada (YEC) is an exchange program funded by Canadian Heritage that helps adult leaders plan exchanges for youth groups of 10 to 30 participants ages 12–17. Groups are paired from different provinces or territories and stay at least five days in each other's communities. Participants travel, discover a new part of Canada, have hands-on learning experiences, and make friends.

Preston Simmonds had his first YEC exchange experience in 2021 and hasn’t looked back. Preston, who works in Child & Youth programs at the YMCA of Greater Halifax and Dartmouth, is a shining star in his community, and we are lucky to work with him. Here, he shares his epic YEC adventures.

Preston’s YEC journey

“So far, I have led three exchanges with plans to do more in the future. My experience with YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada has been amazing. Not only I have learned about myself, but I’ve learned more about Canada and its amazing diversity and multiculturalism. My first exchange was to Winnipeg with a group called Peaceful Village. For my first exchange, I learned a lot about the program and fell in love with it. My second exchange was with the YMCA NYLD (Newcomer Youth Leadership Development) program in Toronto; during this exchange, I took a larger group of youth. For my third exchange, we are exchanging with Oxford House, Manitoba. My experiences with the exchange program have been nothing but successful and fun. YEC has impacted our local community to the point that it has become a part of our programming schedule.”

 First stop: Winnipeg 

“At first, I wasn’t sure what to do, as I had to go from assisting the exchange to fully running it. Chris (the regional coordinator for YEC supporting groups from Quebec and Atlantic Canada) was extremely helpful throughout the process and helped me get up to speed very quickly. 

For my first exchange, my biggest takeaway was how the youth connected with each other. From day one, the youth gravitated to each other, and we were excited to share their city with their twin [group]. During hosting, there weren’t many challenges except for dealing with the unpredictable coastal weather of Nova Scotia, causing us to have to replan two full days because of torrential downpours.”  

Second stop: Toronto

“The Toronto exchange was my first time doing the full process of the exchange, from start to finish. This exchange went off without a hitch; we were able to do so much more than I did before, as I understood what I needed and had an idea of what I wanted to improve from my previous exchange.

This time, I increased the size of my group to 15 youth participants. The youth fully supported and bought into the program from the beginning, from fundraising to pre-exchange activities. In terms of before and after the exchange, we observed the effects of this program on our youth — they all became more active in our programming and their communities. Many of the youth still contact each other from this experience and develop long-lasting relationships.”

Third stop: Oxford House 

“Although this exchange hasn’t finished yet, I still feel this will be my most successful exchange yet. We will be taking a group of 15 to Oxford House, Manitoba, and hosting a group of 20. This time, we are fundraising at a higher level and are on pace with our expectations.  

For this exchange, our youth have been super motivated and engaged throughout the experience. At first, when we told them of the location we were going to, the majority were excited about travelling to a location and having an experience that they most likely would never have. Those who weren’t interested changed their mind after some thought and are excited to be a part of this exchange.”

Ready to make a similar difference in your community? Join Preston and countless others in giving youth the experience of a lifetime through the YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada program. Thanks to Canadian Heritage, we can cover transportation costs between communities and help groups achieve their goals of connecting Canadians. 

Check us out at ymcagta.org/yec.

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