GCC Associate Dean of Community Engagement Judy Raper, GCC President Yves Salomon-Fernandez and YMCA CEO Grady Vigneau say the YMCA and GCC have a lot in common, so it only makes sense to expand the partnership between the two to create opportunities for both local institutions and the people they serve.
The YMCA’s Leader Club, serving children ages 10 to 18, will engage with the college’s Senior Volunteer Program to host two monthly meetings. The Senior Volunteer Program provides mentors to the college’s students. Retirees work with students to help them with studies, business plans and more.
The Leaders Club is the modern iteration of what was once known as the YMCA’s Rags Program. The program gives preteens and teens opportunities to make a difference in Franklin County by working together to plan and implement service activities, engage in character-building and enjoy an array of social and recreational programming, mirroring GCC’s commitment to diversity, community and learning.
“There is a lot of anecdotal information and research to show that when kids are on campus at a younger age, the more likely they are to see college as a viable option,” Raper explained.
Vigneau said when everyone talked about a collaboration, he and the others were committed from the first day.
“Having this intergenerational collaboration is so important for all involved,” he said. “Students learn that being older doesn’t mean ‘the past’ and having nothing to offer; it means someone with experience can mentor them, they can learn from them. And it goes both ways. We can all learn from the students.”
Raper said by bringing the Leaders Club to GCC, the partnership opens doors for students to build important connections, benefit from the college’s resources, learn to navigate a college campus and more.
Raper said young people who are exposed to the language and culture of higher education see opportunities they might not have known existed, so not only can early exposure increase young people’s confidence by giving them awareness of what to expect, but it can help underrepresented students — including immigrants and first-generation college students — in building foundational connections with the school.
“This is something pretty special,” Vigneau said. “Kids can walk on campus and imagine themselves there when they graduate high school. They can aspire to what they are seeing and experiencing at GCC. They can see all the possibilities.”
YMCA Youth and Family Director Dave Grappolo, who is a GCC alumnus, said the Leaders Club is all about offering youth the opportunity to do things they normally wouldn’t do, including serving a community meal, fundraising for a trip to a Boston Red Sox game or completing a ropes course.
The club also tackles tough topics, Grappolo said, like the opioid crisis, tobacco, vaping, cyber-bullying and social media addiction.
All involved agree that with the new partnership comes new opportunities — in December, GCC’s senior volunteers joined the young leaders for an intergenerational board game night that left them engaging in conversation and building camaraderie.
“We’re so excited about this,” Vigneau said. “Yves and I both want to bring what happens in our institutions beyond the four walls of each. We want to be a bigger part of the communities around us. When we elevate people, we get elevated.”
On March 9, national filmmaker and screenwriter Richie Farrell will give a talk, “From Heroin to Hollywood,” presenting his story of recovery to YMCA and GCC students and staff. A second presentation will be open to the entire community. On April 1, GCC and the YMCA will co-sponsor an intergenerational dance with Greenfield High School. Young and not-so-young alike will teach each other dances from their generations, and during the summer, the YMCA will host four of its summer camps at GCC, engaging youth in sports, performing arts and coding across the campus. Dates and times for all of the events will be announced at a later date.
Raper said the partnership is just the beginning of what GCC and the YMCA can do together. The two are currently discussing starting a Youth in Government program.
Vigneau explained YMCAs have started the program across the country. Children meet legislators and visit the State House.
“It’s another example of ‘This could be me,’” Vigneau said. “We’re all always dreaming, thinking of what we can do to help the youngsters we serve.”
Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.