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YMCA Christchurch Brings Back the Spirit of the Past

YMCA Christchurch Brings Back the Spirit of the Past with Hot Cocoa

This ANZAC Day at the dawn ceremony in Cranmer Square the autumn chill will be warmed by YMCA volunteers giving out free hot chocolate. As per previous years we anticipate giving away over 1000 cups of cocoa before 6am, to anyone who needs something warm to cradle while paying their respects and remembering our soldiers lost in battle.

This is an act of service by young YMCA volunteers carried out every year at the Christchurch dawn service, in particular deference to the YMCA involvement in all the Great Wars – YMCA volunteers providing a range of unpaid support and welfare services alongside the Red Cross. Rather than medical assistance, YMCA volunteers aimed to strengthen the spirits of the frontline armed forces through provision of hot cocoa to the men in the trenches, counseling, rest and recreation activities, entertainment, family support and provision of copies of the Bible… to name a few of their Christian endeavors.

It is a little known fact that young volunteers from the YMCA have provided social service support and fellowship to soldiers in every significant battle since World War 1. This continues today in conflicts occurring around the world, such as Palestine and Syria, with significant efforts going to support, rehome and rehabilitate refugees. These YMCA acts of great support and charity are largely driven at the front line by young people.

“We have a number of veterans as current members of our gym in Christchurch. This voluntary contribution each ANZAC is symbolic of course – however it is significant that young people volunteer for this opportunity without ever being asked twice.” Said CEO Josie Ogden Schroeder. “It is particularly fitting that a group of teenage volunteers make it happen, getting up at 3am to prepare the cocoa at the YMCA and taking it by YMCA van, in urns, to the square. They really are great young people and they represent thousands of other young people who strongly value opportunities to make a difference in the communities in which they live. The significance of the history of our vets is powerfully remembered by the younger generation and remains relevant to understanding the context of conflict today.”

During World War 1, in charge of the New Zealand forces in France was one Major Jim Hay, who was also a YMCA representative and who later became Mayor of Christchurch. At a meeting in late 1917 which was convened to discuss how to address low morale in the NZ and British divisions at the time, Hay was part of some practical solutions of the YMCA - aimed at “improving local conditions and seeing to the welfare of the men, and also telling the men what they were fighting for.”

This week, YMCA Wainui Park is full of children on holiday camp. Veterans from Christchurch are heading to Wainui on ANZAC day to run an ANZAC service for the campers. “The camp ceremony will include a reveille, which is very special.” said Ogden Schroeder.

Today the YMCA enjoys the wisdom and patronage of a number of veterans who use the City Y Health & Fitness facilities on a regular basis.

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