Torrien’s new job comes with some ‘surprises’

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New YMCA CEO Torrien Lau… “I don’t believe that the Canberra community is actually aware of how much we do in bringing people together and filling needs in the community.” Photo: Danielle Nohra

WHEN Torrien Lau took on the position as YMCA Canberra’s new CEO he was surprised.

To him, like many other Canberrans, he associated YMCA Canberra with one or two “things” such as childcare or gymnastics, but never realised its wider reach.

“The community isn’t aware of it, either,” he says.

Torrien, of Canberra’s south, has always lived in the ACT but only ever experienced YMCA Canberra through a holiday program in the ‘70s and, in more recent years, its swimming pools.

Now, he wants to share all the other great things the not-for-profit does.

“One of the things I’ve realised since I started is that the touch of the YMCA within the Canberra community is deep and wide,” he says.

Established in 1941, YMCA Canberra’s vision was to serve the community and has since done so through areas such as health, sport, children’s programs, disability, accommodation, hospitality and youth services.

“We see a gap and we go forth and provide a solution,” Torrien says.

He’s joined YMCA Canberra after five years with disability accommodation support group Focus ACT, more than three of which as its CEO.

Torrien says he started at Focus ACT at a time when the disability sector was forced into change from the NDIS.

“We had to transfer from being government funded to a client-funded environment,” he says.

“The key challenge in that space was becoming financially viable while still maintaining the vision. We managed to do that really well.”

Torrien says Focus ACT became one of the best financially performing organisations in the country, delivering customer satisfaction rates of 96 per cent, with staff engagement rates of 92 per cent.

And when he achieved what he’d set out to achieve he knew it was time to move on to something new.

“I resigned because I thought it was time for somebody else to come in and bring new energy and life into it,” he says.

Which is what he’s hoping to do at YMCA Canberra.

“I felt that I needed a new purpose, something that had greater value,” he says.

Drawn to what he says is the YMCA Canberra motto of “body, mind and spiritual development of people in the community”, Torrien felt there was a strong alignment with his own personal views.

“There has been potentially hundreds of thousands of people who have engaged with YMCA,” he says.

“I want to bring more awareness around what the YMCA brings to the community and how it helps people become connected with the community.

“I don’t believe that the Canberra community is actually aware of how much we do in bringing people together and filling needs in the community.”

This year, as an example, Torrien says YMCA Canberra is opening a youth space in Civic.

“As a community, it’s widely recognised that our youth can use some help,” he says.

“We’re opening a youth centre at a time when youth centres are closing.

“We’re getting no funding for it at all, but we see it as something we believe is important to provide and we would love to work with other organisations to provide ongoing support in this space.”

Another part of YMCA Canberra is its social clubs, which Torrien says are really important for connecting people in the community.

But he’d especially like to see a more unified YMCA community in the future.

“At the moment there’s a little bit of YMCA here and a little bit there,” he says.

“I want to see people improve their body, spirit and mind in a unified community.”

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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