Woman with vision has fresh plans for YMCA
As a career optometrist, Lerato Lebopo knows a thing or two about vision.
Just how clearly the 39-year-old single mom sees the next few years will be particularly important as the newly appointed chair of the YMCA in Nelson Mandela Bay.
A woman in charge of a men's association? Nothing this go-getter can't handle.
"I love taking risks. Sometimes it gets me into trouble," Lebopo says.
"But that is where you get the lessons of life. You'll never learn anything unless you make a bold move and say, 'This is what I am going to do'."
Lebopo is the first woman to take the helm of the local YMCA, a worldwide movement established in London in 1844 as the Young Men's Christian Association to offer spiritual fellowship and social fraternity to young men.
While times have changed considerably since the early days of the founding fathers, the YMCA continues to uplift young people – men and women – around the world.
Now, with former Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber CEO and new YMCA general secretary Kevin Hustler, Lebopo has a job on her hands breathing new life into the local operation – with origins in the city dating back to 1865.
Both Lebopo and Hustler are primed for the task ahead.
Lebopo grew up in Pretoria with her two sisters after the death of her parents, learning from an early age that nothing short of hard work would do.
Lebopo is a member of the Business Women's Association in Nelson Mandela Bay and mentors young women, reminding them there is nothing they cannot do or aspire to be.
“At the time I was 12, when my parents died, I had to grow up quickly, I had to be independent and I think that shows today in the woman I am.
“With growing up very quickly and learning to be responsible and learning to see that you have a goal to reach, you become an adult who knows what you want to do.
“Young girls today must know there is nothing they cannot do as women. As long as we believe in ourselves."
Lebopo is no stranger to the local YMCA, having been on the board for three years prior to her appointment in September for a two-year term.
She moved from Pietermaritzburg to Port Elizabeth in 2005, opening her own optometry practice in Motherwell, before switching to a SpecSavers franchise a year later.
Running her own venture was tough but added new smarts to her skills, she says. But, feeling she was stagnating, Lebopo “went back to school”, completing a B-Tech in Business Administration in 2016, before moving on to an MBA, which she hopes to finish in 2019. All this while plying her trade at the eye clinic at PE Provincial Hospital.
Ahead lies another challenging job: reviving the local YMCA, securing new streams of income and putting in place critical youth-based programmes.
Already there are early signs of promise, with the association recently securing a small tranche of funding from the US and a financial commitment of R60,000 expected soon from Sweden, money which will be used to launch Y-Justice, a national outreach programme that uses schools to identify children at risk of criminal influence.
A first for Port Elizabeth, this intervention will be piloted at Chapman High School in the northern areas.
“We have so many young people who do not have vision. I would say they are lost young people, not by choice, but because of circumstances.
“Our responsibility is to show them that there is more to life than what they have now and what they know.”
The YMCA, governed by a board of 10, has its base in Aubrey Street, Gelvan Park, where it runs a two-star hostel and conference facility.
It also supports Eluvuyo creche near Njoli Square, catering for 65 children aged four to six.
The YMCA board meets in March to formulate its new strategic plan.