Thursday, November 19, 2015

#BeCauseY: Y Student Leaders Giving Without Borders

Dina Betts and Jesse Chen are passionate about working with communities around the world for clean, reliable drinking water and accessible, renewable energy options. They cultivated this passion at the University YMCA.

“Ever since I have joined, I cannot imagine devoting my career to any work that is not dedicated to social good,” said Dina Betts, a senior in Civil Engineering and Ntisaw Project leader for Engineers Without Borders (EWB), a student program of the University YMCA.

Since 2004, the University Y has been the home of the U. of I. chapter of EWB, a student program dedicated to community-based engineering for a more sustainable global future. In Fall 2008, EWB started the Ntisaw Village Partnership in Cameroon, aimed at providing clean, accessible and reliable water to the people of the Ntisaw Village. Since the project’s inception, Ntisaw community members and EWB project leaders have codesigned and developed a new drinking water source, a water distribution system and six latrines.

“It’s been an amazing experience, forming relationships and building a greater understanding of the community,” said Jesse Chen, a second-year Electrical Engineering student and Ntisaw Project coordinator for EWB.

Jesse, Dina and the rest of the EWB Ntisaw Project team plan to make one more trip in May 2016 to work on transitioning the project completely to the local Ntisaw water management team. The Ntisaw Village Partnership may be coming to an end this academic year, but the leadership and personal growth gained from this community-driven engineering project will have a lasting impact.

To support the Y student leaders of Engineers Without Borders now and for years to come, please visit:

Monday, November 2, 2015

Inspire A Future: Mentoring Program at the Y Empowers Latin@ Youth

One in five youth face difficult socio-economic hurdles that could keep them from reaching productive adulthood, obtaining an education and successfully entering the workforce. Research shows that youth are more likely to succeed with the support of a caring adult.

Recognizing the power of mentorship as a way to empower Latin@ youth and direct their energies into their own positive life endeavors, the United We Dream Latino Mentorship Program was initiated in 2011 by La Colectiva, a student program of the Y.

Now in its fourth year, the program pairs up a first generation Latino high school student in Urbana High School with a Latino University of Illinois college student to encourage the pursuit of higher education. Ways U of I student mentors have assisted are by setting up financial aid workshops, college campus visits, and discussing career choices. This year, 16 mentees participated in the program. The program finished out the year with the recruitment of 4 new mentors in the Fall 2015 semester.

“Having had my mentees for more than two years has been an incredible part of my college experience. I am proud and lucky to have been able to see my two mentees transform into young, responsible adults,“ says Melissa Antuñez, University YMCA student leader of the class of 2015.

"The program is going well. We intend to expand the mentoring program next Spring 2016 semester by adding a workshop component aimed at readying students for college, including topics such as SAT test-taking preparation,  admissions essay writing, and applying for FAFSA," says Enrique Rebolledo, Program Coordinator for the University YMCA.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor or would like more information, you may contact Enrique Rebolledo at

History:  At the Y, we believe that everyone, regardless of age, deserves the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. Since 1962, Y student leaders have experienced the power of mentoring and tutoring as an important part of promoting the well-being of community at large.

Y alumni and friends may recall the Y Pal program as where mentoring truly became a major part of YMCA programming up until the mid 1970s.  In the1980s, the student led VIS-A-VIS tutoring program established relationships with local schools to focus on academic tutoring, incorporating the value of mentoring into their service over time.

In the past two years, we have also seen a focus on mentoring increase with the establishment of the United We Dream Mentorship Program in 2011 and the CU Succeed Mentorship Program in 2013.

Mentors and tutors at the Y are our mission in action, recognizing the power of mentoring and tutoring as a tool for social justice.