YMCA Changemakers (21-22)

Civic Engagement, Education

How can we transform youth interested in creating impact into confident and community-centered changemakers?


Team Lead: Spoorthi Cherivirala
Other Members: Chelsea Tang, Avani Guduri, Thomas Kang

Community Partner


YMCA Changemakers

Fall 2021-Spring 2022

project poster

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Human-Centered Design Process


define target problem spaces

How Can We's that define problem spaces to research

  • How can we make students feel like it's their program, give them initiative and a sense of ownership? “Your opinion matters.”
  • How can we connect peers with similar interests?
  • How can we inform youth about programs in their community?
  • How can we connect the interests of youth to tangible community programs/ organizations?
  • How can we keep youth informed of the impact of their work?
  • How can we ensure youth continue participating in programs?
  • How can we raise awareness about community issues in youth?
  • How can we encourage community involvement for altruistic purposes?
  • How can we direct community programs towards tangible social impact rather than showiness?
  • How can we increase access to transportation/resources for youth to continue participating in programs?
  • How can we demonstrate to non-profits/community organizations the benefit of youth participation and involvement?

Initial knowledge and assumptions

  • Nonprofits and community organizations are reluctant to work with younger students
  • Some community program targets advertising over tangible community benefits
  • Youth lose interest in programs that aren’t related to their passions
  • Some parents/guardians want to shelter their children from seeing issues within their community


understand your problem spaces

Key insights from additional research

We interviewed the following people at the YMCA, focusing on changemaking-related programs offered by their associated Y:

  • James Brown (Director of Creative Youth Development at Homewood-Brushton Branch YMCA)
  • Kyande Sanders (Youth Program and Day Camp Director at Ann Arbor YMCA)
  • Amanda Trask (Senior Director of Youth Development at the Old Colony YMCA)
  • Denby Holloman (Teen Programs Director at YMCA of the Triangle)
  • Trish Kitchell (Vice President of Youth Development at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati)
  • Nikkey Blackman (Director of Program Engagement at Kentucky YMCA Youth Association)
  • We read articles related to how to encourage youth changemaking and past occurrences of changemaking by youth.
Insight 1: Youth want to work with other youth on topics of their choice, but programs on topics of their choice are sometimes not easily accessible.
  • “Young people are looking for something to do…Not lecture-oriented, hands-on…Basically things they already have experience with (they have to do less learning/research about)... and anything with hands-on learning” – James Brown, Homewood YMCA.
  • “Programs have to be dynamic… Don't repeat projects or activities- feels repetitive…tailor lesson plans to keep kids engaged…Music program has been the strongest - spoke the language before coming here - young people have written music before, coming in with some prior knowledge…lots of potential” – James Brown, Homewood YMCA.
  • “Students who are underprivileged are likely to have less experiences and activities that they can write on the application. In order to recruit these students in need, it is important to recruit youth in informal ways, such as phone calls or social media instead of making them write applications.” — Nikkey Blackman, Director of Program Engagement at Kentucky YMCA Youth Association
Insight 2: Youth want and benefit from a lack of adult intervention.
  • “Youth should be creators of content not consumers of content… Youth (up to age 25) are looking for something interesting to do without adult intervention… Youth learn skills (media tools (photoshop, graphic design), Youth are in ownership… Empower them to use technical skills to convey their perspective” – James Brown, Homewood YMCA
  • “We have a team leadership program for youth. Schools identify the youth as candidates if they are worried about them transitioning into high schools and through the program they are able to gain leadership and job skills as well as serve as mentors for younger children. From there, they can be invited to serve on the Advisory council. These kids have never been asked to be in a leadership role before and giving them these opportunities allows them to thrive.” — Amanda Trask, Senior Director of Youth Development at the Old Colony YMCA
Insight 3: Seeing the impact of their efforts and being provided with positive feedback encourages continued participation among youth.
  • “How to Encourage Youth to Volunteer: Show them the genuine purpose behind serving. Make sure teenagers understand the impact of volunteering by explaining how the work makes a difference… By showing them the purpose behind volunteering, teenagers will feel more encouraged and engaged… [also] Provide positive feedback, affirmation and recognition. Recognizing the teenager’s efforts… encourage them to come back and continue volunteering.” - Secondary Research


define your goals and determine your impact

Narrowed down How Can We's to ideate for

  • How can we connect peers with similar interests in an accessible way?
  • How can we allow students to develop their programs with minimal adult intervention and make students feel a sense of ownership in their program?
  • How can we keep youth informed about the impact of their work and provide positive feedback?


generate a variety of solutions for meaningful change

Sketches and process

  • Profile matching app - connecting youth with specific interests and various organizations
  • One day program event/ summer camp - implemented to connect youth to non-profits & community organizations present
  • Website with podcasts - appeal to students on different topics - also has a network where they meet others w similar interests
  • Digital feedback element that allows youth to reflect on what they liked, if they want to continue the project, and how they felt working with their peers
  • App with newsletters - educates youth on community/social issues to incite them to become changemakers


make your ideas into tangible projects