After 20 years of managing the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Athlone, James Benjamin has decided to step down and allow the younger generation to take the association into the future.
The centre was originally based in District Six but was forced to relocate to Athlone during apartheid’s forced removals.
It currently serves as a student residence and they provide home-based care to the elderly in the communities of Athlone, Manenberg, Heideveld, Bokmakierie, Hazendal and Belgravia.
There are also various platforms for the youth such as holiday programmes as well as an after school programme for primary school pupils.
Mr Benjamin, 60, started his journey with the YMCA as a volunteer in the 1980s. He helped to build the centre’s residence accommodation.
He became the manager in 1997 and a major part of his role has been to raise funds which, according to him, was the most challenging task.
Mr Benjamin said it costs about R300000 a month to run the centre.
“When I started here it was just me and the cook so on the days that the cook was off, I had to cook,” recalls Mr Benjamin.
He said one thing that kept him at the centre for so long was the ability to motivate the youth to do well in their lives and become successful, and being able to watch them grow.
Mr Benjamin now lives in Parow but grew up in Bonteheuwel.
He said the greatest reward was to see young people achieve their dreams.
“Even though we are a movement for young people our oldest client is 105-years-old so we cater for all ages. The centre is here to help those in need,” he said.
Mr Benjamin said that he believes stepping down now would be an opportunity for the next generation to take over.
“I want to retire now while I am still healthy and not sick. Even though I am about to retire I would have liked to have left the youth centre as a legacy project but it is still a work in progress,” said Mr Benjamin.
The youth centre is set to be completed in the next two years.
Part of Mr Benjamin’s retirement plan includes travelling, but he said that he would still be assisting the YMCA with their building plans for the youth centre.