Project: OrlandoWorks - Senior Youth Development Director On the Lasting Impact She’s Making on Orlando’s Youth at YMCA
“I go home every day and I’m just so excited about going to work because I know that we’re impacting so many lives.”
In this installment of the Project: OrlandoWorks photo series, we spoke with Leah Prendergast, Senior Youth Development Director at YMCA. Read more to learn about the Lasting Impact She’s Making on Orlando’s Youth at YMCA.
Article by Brianna Toawicha | Photos by Lennyn Garcia
Leah Prendergast radiates with sentiments of jubilation when discussing the hundreds of lives she impacts at the YMCA, as the Senior Youth Development Director. Her dedication to instructing the youth she encounters in a manner that aids their growth socially, mentally, and physically is instrumental to the Orlando community. Prendergast elaborates on what she loves most about what she does at YMCA and how she knows she’s making a difference.
"I serve hundreds of youth every day and so being able to hone into their passions [and] tap into their inner abilities is one of the biggest takeaways. I know I’m making a difference in the community because of all of the families and students and families that come back to us.”
As the Senior Youth Development Director at YMCA, Prendergast has the creative freedom to instruct her kids in engaging and exciting new ways. She shares her favorite project thus far and how these activities are key development experiences for the youth.
"My favorite project would have to be anything that gets them out of their comfort zone, like performing arts. I know it’s super nerve-wracking, but when you see them blossom and the outer shell goes away, it is amazing to see the transformation. [The kids] didn’t realize that you could learn so much from being on a stage and opening up your horizons, they didn’t realize, they’re gaining speaking skills, learning how to write, learning how to create.”
With the global pandemic that affected us all, Prendergast elaborates on how it affected the way she taught, how she led her staff, and how YMCA as a united front overcame the hardship.
“We’re just super passionate and understanding. Things change day-to-day and we just have to support each other. It has been one of the roughest years for a lot of our kids and they were super excited that YMCA was able to open its doors. We still had families that had no work and that were First Responders, so we had our emergency childcare camps that opened, and we were able to support them emotionally. It was just a lot that everyone was going through and the uncertainties of whether or not they would be able to see their friends or family, so we were able to get them through that difficult time.”
Prendergast is a clear depiction that working with youth takes a lot of dedication and passion for instilling the next generation with the key principles they need to excel. She shares her advice for anyone looking to be involved in the youth development industry.
“I would definitely tell them just go for it, whether it’s in a volunteer capacity or a mentorship capacity if you feel that you have something to offer, especially in a youth development aspect. Take the time to figure out what you can bring to those programs and share your expertise with the world.”
Leah Prendergast makes a positive impact on Orlando’s youth at YMCA every day through instruction and development. Both her and YMCA’s commitment to the progression of the kids who are enrolled in their programs is moving, but the efforts and outreach to those who don’t have access to these programs are even more impactful.
For information on open positions at YMCA, visit YMCA of Central Florida.