Two years ago Chelsey Harnell unknowingly started a tradition in her family, a tradition of giving back to her local community. “I’ve probably invested more time into the YMCA than I ever intended, but there’s no place I’d rather be,” laughs the 22 year-old. It wasn’t too long before her family caught the giving back bug and became part of the YMCA. Chelsey smiles and takes a deep breath, “my brother Reagan is an OSCAR Leader at Mount Albert and Ellerslie, my sister Eden works across the holiday programmes, my Mum is just about to get involved with our Raise Up youth programme, and it’s only a matter of time before my little brother Caleb signs on.” The only member of the Harnell family yet to think of joining is Dad, Bruce. “He’s in finance,” adds Chelsey, “he’s just watching the rest of us join the YMCA,” she laughs.

Chelsey says the YMCA naturally dominates the Christmas table conversation, “it surrounds my life 24/7, but that’s a good thing.” The YMCA is a not-for-profit organisation focused on building strong kids, families and communities across Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. Chelsey’s role as Youth Programmes Coordinator focuses on building robust teenagers, a role she openly admits she fell into, “this job has been a blessing, it’s given me clear direction and a lot more confidence. I’ve developed as a person thanks to Raise Up,” she says, smiling.

The bubbly sport, marketing and management graduate has found her feet in youth work. She runs two Raise Up crews of up to 30 teenagers - one out of Lynfield Youth & Leisure Centre and the other at Mount Albert Leisure Centre. “I am currently doing my level 4 youth work as part of Raise Up, so this is where I want to be, and this is what I want to do. I enjoy being an opportunity maker for young people,” she says. Raise Up, which engages more than 15,000 youth each year is a key platform for teenagers to engage with the local community by running events, workshops and activities. “All our Raise Up teens care about is being the change their community needs,” she says.

Chelsey, who was recently awarded the title of Raise Up Coordinator of the Year, has big ambitions. “I would like to help develop Raise Up into a nationwide programme. That’s a big dream, but that’s what I’m aiming for,” she says, smiling. “I want to help more young people find their niche, whatever that may be.”

As for Dad, Bruce, perhaps the Christmas table conversation will spark a New Year’s resolution to join the YMCA family.