Craig Wolf, executive director of the York YMCA, left, and Alexei Kostyakov, national coordinator of YMCA of Russia and executive director of YMCA Ivanovo,
Craig Wolf, executive director of the York YMCA, left, and Alexei Kostyakov, national coordinator of YMCA of Russia and executive director of YMCA Ivanovo, tour the York YMCA Wednesday. (John A. Pavoncello jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

Russian YMCA leader Alexei Kostyakov is a believer in the positive effects of diplomacy through people, not just governments.

He's seen it work in part through international youth camps run by YMCA sites across Russia, which have youth exchange programs with England, Germany and other countries.

And though a few youngsters from the United States have participated in past years, Kostyakov said it's time for more exchange of ideas and youth between the United States and Russia.

York partnership: As part of reaching that goal, Kostyakov met Wednesday with Craig Wolf, executive director of the York YMCA, to explore the idea of York sites partnering with the Russian YMCA.

The international camps allow youth — often teens — to experience other cultures and represent their home countries well, Kostyakov said, who serves as the national coordinator for the YMCA of Russia and the executive director of the Ivanovo site about 150 miles northeast of Moscow.

"This brings peace between our countries," he said.

Beyond student travel, a partnership between York and Russian YMCAs would allow the organizations to share ideas about programs and goals, Wolf said.

World council: Wolf and Kostyakov attended the World Council of YMCAs last week, held in Estes Park, Colo. The council spent its time in strategic planning sessions for the YMCAs in 119 countries around the world with the theme "empowering young people." The event is expected to shape several upcoming initiatives through YMCAs around the globe.


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One of those projects, Wolf said, is a One Million Voices campaign that aims to survey 1 million youth ages 15 to 24 about employment, health, civic engagement and the environment.

As YMCA centers move forward, the goal is to better serve those young people, and to foster relationships among them, both leaders said. Russian partnerships with international sites in Reading and in Hannover, Germany, have allowed Russia's YMCA sites to grow over the years. A new partnership with the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado is in the works, and Kostyakov said another one in York is a possibility, too.

"Our ultimate goal is to bring people together," Kostyakov said.

That will continue despite increased scrutiny of nonprofits because of political unrest, Kostyakov said. The YMCA is not political, and Kostyakov said he believes their work in the communities is "socially relevant" as it helps local Russians with leadership training and various philanthropic projects.

— Reach Nikelle Snader at nsnader@yorkdispatch.com.