Di from the Y

Dianne McDonald is Executive Manager of Communications with YMCA Australia, and a parent of two primary school aged children, one with additional needs (Asperger Syndrome). She has a strong interest in sharing life's learnings with others.
Di from the Y has written 24 posts for Di from the Y's Blog

On being a duck

As a kid I was given the nickname ‘Duck’ by my mum. I was her little duck.

the young familyThat’s me, in my mum’s arms, with my sisters Judy and Barbara and Granny!

The name caught on in primary school, and with a surname like McDonald morphed into “Donald Duck” then over time back to  “Duck”.  Duck stuck till I left high school and Wangaratta, at 18.  If anyone calls me “Duck” I know they’re from Wang!

This week a friend gifted me the realisation that Duck was actually a very apt nickname. For like a duck I can seem calm on the surface when underneath I’m paddling madly!  I may be a more composed duck now I’m older, but I’m still a duck. No doubt about it! Once a duck, always a duck!

Now I’m a Mumma Duck, and today with my two little ducks, Zac and Bianca, we will swim in our fourth annual YMCA Swimathon, along with around 1,500 swimmers across Australia, in an event I have worked on in various leadership roles in this time.

It might be Zac’s last year though – he’s almost 13 now and rebelling like any good teenager! I confess – I incentivise him with $10 out of my pocket for every $100 he raises. He’s heading for $40 this year!  And he’s still saying he might get in the pool “but I can’t make him swim”.  We’ll see…I can be a tough Mumma Duck!

All Swimathon swimmers are not just swimming but also actively raising funds to support people with disabilities in their local communities.   I am a proud Mumma Duck thinking about everyone we  already support, can potentially support, and everyone across Australia swimming their laps, shaking their tins, all working towards the same goal, on the same day.  Finally, I also am thinking of everyone I have worked on this event with – many have now moved on, but I hope they’re a feeling proud, today, too. Big proud quacks and thanks to all!

Each year  as a family we have steadily grown our funds raised, from $725 in 2012, to $1305 in 2014 and $2,200 in 2014.   As a family this year we have raised almost $3,000! Thanks to support from lots of wonderful individual donors, and in the last two years with the added fun of an annual fundraising event with girl friends.

Just as each year the event overall has steadily grown from raising $110,000 in year one, $210,000 in year two, $230,000 in year three… this year we are steadily heading towards our national goal of $250,000, to support at least 1600 people with disabilities.

By 2017 we want to double that and raise $500,000.  I’m confident we’ll get there, and that in 10 years’ time, we’ll be a high profile event on every swimmer’s calendar, with several key sponsors, supporting thousands of Australians. And our event will be a true partnership with those we seek to benefit.

Swimathon 2014 thank you from Zac, Di and Bianca For the last two years we have swum at Aquarena, YMCA Manningham. Here we are after last year’s event, thanking all our wonderful supporters! Zac in his own t-shirt design.

My parents, and Mum in particular, were heavily engaged in their local community, helping build the Killawarra Tennis Club and courts (no longer there) and the Wangaratta Hard Courts (still there!), through fundraising, organising and connecting people together around a shared cause.

And this year as I reflect on this event, and my role in it, and having lost Dad recently and Mum 13 years ago, I realise how much I have absorbed of my parents’ values.   It makes me happy that I too have been actively helping create opportunities for people to participate in sporting activities.  Outside of work, I’m also on our community’s inaugural netball club committee.

This year I also miss both my mum and my dad deeply and profoundly.  On the surface,  I’m functioning, I’m doing well, nothing to complain about really, but underneath runs a river of sadness.  Once a duck, always a duck.

However, on the brighter side – ducks can swim! And lucky duck I was, I had the chance to learn as a kid (a pool at my public primary school!) and friends with pools (Thanks Kenzos!), as well as rivers and public pools to swim in.  I am a lucky duck in so many ways.  Too many kids today don’t get this chance, and if you have a disability, it can be even harder to get a fair go.  At the Y we want everyone to have the opportunity to be healthy, happy and connected – and the YMCA Swimathon is one way we seek to achieve our vision.

So heartfelt thanks from this little duck to everyone who has supported our YMCA Swimathon journey, this year, or in previous years.  I’ll be thinking of you all, as I paddle along happily, with my little ducks, and all the other ducks in the pool at YMCA Derrimut or any one of the other 65 pools splashing out for this great cause. maddy kayla and di

Maddy and Kayla Parker are two little ducks who will also be swimming at YMCA Derrimut today.  In fact, they’re the reason why I’m swimming here.  Two amazing girls who have much to overcome just to swim, who have already learned that giving back where you can, is good. And look how our event branding has changed this year! More color and fun to convey the contagious happiness experience we want everyone to have!  You can sponsor Maddy and Kayla here.

You can still sponsor me here

Sponsor Zac here

Sponsor Bianca here

Quack, quack!



Blue Music Blog


The entrance to the famous Cathedral of Salt

It was a fantastic conference, with several life changing moments, exciting cultural experiences, spiritual moments and warm hospitality in Colombia. Maybe one of the real highlights was yesterday morning in the plenary when three young professionals from Bogota presented on Challenges for Latin American Youth. 35 years of age, in top positions, and all three related closely to the YMCA in Colombia. They painted a picture of the situation for young people, which concluded with using language as The Lost Generation. I knew pretty much all what they were sharing, but their passion and intensity again opened my heart and my head and increased the motivation I have abundantly, the motivation to tell the Untold Story of Injustice Towards Young People. They ended by sharing the news about the three murdered students in Mexico and we all stood for a minute of…

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A relatively ‘typical day’ in the office

Sometimes I wonder where the work day goes! Well here’s where today went.

Grabbed a coffee to kick start my Monday morning brain. Then while my son was at a specialist appointment, dove into preparing a communications strategy on a sensitive matter. Later tuned it after a conversation with an interstate colleague. Better to be prepared than surprised!

Dropped my son at school then headed into the office. Reviewed my priority list for the week then got cracking on it, after a quick chat with the boss, and catching up on his priorities for the week and how I could help.

Prepared an agenda for tomorrow’s YMCA Swimathon national project team meeting – one of my favorite projects because of its impact and a cause close to my heart – supporting people with disabilities to have opportunities to learn to swim and enjoy water safely. Love!

With less than 7 weeks until we are in Darwin for our biennial National Convention – updated the communications plan. Love a good 6 week countdown and now we have one, that involves email newsletters, social media (a closed Facebook group for delegates) and drip feeding updates through our other regular channels.

Chased a few people up to finalise content for one of the key channels we’ll use to communicate with our delegates – happy to know my fabulous support colleague Michelle is back in tomorrow and can send it out!

Spent time researching another fundraising concept in embryonic stages that was recently born over a dinner table conversation among several YMCA leaders and CEOs. Not my idea, but I wish it was!

To me I find fundraising increasingly fun – helping to create an “alchemy of virtue” (my latest fave saying) bringing benefits to both beneficiaries and benefactors. I’m very excited by the concept and the level of interest from across the Y already growing. It seems to be striking a chord!

There was the usual number of emails to process (too many) but I have long employed the tactic of switching off automatic notifications when emails bounce in. That said I still check them every hour for anything urgent, more often if I’m waiting on something to progress my work.

In other tasks I organised a photo shoot, approved a proposal to redevelop our website to align with our new national branding guidelines which will come into effect at the end of the November, and refreshed myself on how to create a Facebook group. (Thanks Mel Burns for being a sounding board – again!)

I tidied up some of the mess on my desk because that helps me feel more organised. My actual computer desktop likewise needs a good spring clean at present but not today!!

At the end of the day I reviewed my priorities again and will begin it all again tomorrow – only with more meetings scheduled! And more coffee!

Rushed out the door at six feeling frazzled and running late to pick up my daughter from dance lessons and to relieve our babysitter who was at home with our son.

Wrote this blog while “unwinding” the couch….

Sent from my iPad


I love the visual blog style of the Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs, Rev Johan Eltvik. He communicates so beautifully across a range of platforms, and beautifully in person too. Here’s his latest blog post visually documenting Day Two of the World Council of YMCAs in Colorado.

Blue Music Blog

The second day is almost over, we have had another brilliant sunny day with very clear air and fantastic view to all the mountain peaks surrounding us. In his opening speech yesterday Ken Colloton talked about Mountain People, and this morning in my speech I referred to Fuji San and Kilimanjaro and played around with those two mountains to help explain what I anted to say in my Secretary General report. It is mountain metaphors for all what it i worth.



The devotion team, led by Carlos Sanvee and Roland Werner have planned a “Journey Together” with a very good programme, and this morning we experienced the kick off with among others the Mile High Gospel Choir. People are in good mood and there are smiles everywhere and laughter  and…

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One of life’s ‘sliding door’ moments, in New York

Twenty five years ago, I headed out at night into the streets of New York with a total stranger I had just met at a YMCA where I was booked in for three nights.

This is one of my life’s ‘sliding door’ moments.

At that time, I was an excitable and naïve 21 year old, a country girl, who had been living and working in America for four months, while lodging safely with a friend in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The trip to New York was the first time I had travelled solo in America, and I was full of excitement and ready for adventure.   While checking out the noticeboards at the Y, one of the friendly young men also hanging out in the foyer, introduced himself as a local, and offered to take me on a tour of the city at night.

So off we headed.  A young me, in shorts, t-shirt and runners , with all my worldly possessions secured around my neck in a hidden pouch.  We walked, and talked.  I don’t recall what about.

I just remember feeling an increasing sense of unease and anxiety with every step we took, as the young man seemed to walk me deeper into shadows, and into streets that seemed to throb with menace.

By now, I wasn’t feeling as brazen and self-assured as when I’d left the hostel.   There were no reassuring mobile phones then.  No phone boxes in sight.   No police cars.  I felt completely vulnerable and alone.

I was, I realised, the only white person on the streets.

Suddenly a car pulled up alongside us, and an older man wound down his car window.

“Hey,” he called out. “What are you doing here?”

He was talking to me.  I must have looked like a fish out of water.

“I don’t know,” I managed to stammer.

“Get in,” he commanded.

It took me a few short seconds to make what I would now describe as a ‘risk assessment’, and nodded my assent.  Into the car I jumped – as fast as I could scrambling away from my companion, yet still thinking to thank him politely for the tour he’d given me.  “I’m tired,” I stammered, to his protests.

“A girl like you shouldn’t be out on the streets here,” the car driver admonished me.  “This is a very dangerous part of town”.

He seemed fatherly. Safe.  Around thirty, I estimated.

He offered to drive me back to my hostel.  I was so relieved I could have cried.

It was only when he pulled up outside the YMCA that he seemed to have second thoughts about saying goodbye.

“Got a smoke on you?” he asked.  “How about a drink with me?”

I politely declined and got out of the car as quickly as I could, running into the foyer at the Y, half expecting to find my former companion back in the foyer waiting for me.

But that was the end of my night’s adventure, but not my imagining of different endings.

I saw how the outcomes could have been different.   I realised that I was a too naïve, too trusting, in a situation where it was unwise to be so.

I also had a small taste of what it felt like to be “the other” in a place where I clearly didn’t fit in.  And how when given the choice between two strangers I chose a stranger who looked more ‘like me’.  Meaning white.  And I felt a little ashamed to know that about myself.

I’ll never know if either man had any ill intentions toward me.  I only had my instincts to rely upon, and largely, they’ve served me well.

If I was honest, both men scared me a little. Not at first, but soon after.

After that first night in New York, I was more cautious in decisions I made about my travel companions.  Mostly, from thereon, I  only travelled with fellow travellers, or friends.

What’s one of your sliding door moments?



“Wow, life is beautiful!”

Live, indeed is beautiful Peter. Right here, now.

Ignorance & pride get in the way

Our new dog, Maggie, is on my lap. I sit here, relaxed, thoughts flowing. When she looks up at me it’s impossible to resist picking her up and having a cuddle. Time passes. The only time is now. I relax. She is stunning. At 12 weeks she is a still little puppy. She viewed is of warmth, love and joy. She trusts completing. Judges no one, least of all herself! She is cute for sure, but it’s her purity, her essence that captures me; completely. Wow, she is beautiful.

I must be thick! Time and again my body, the people around me, and all sorts of circumstances have thrown out bleeding obvious hints at me. “Take your time. Care for yourself. Look around, the world is beautiful.”

The events of the past three months have made me evaluate, stop & reflect. I have had time – time to really see…

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Why I’m cross about ‘The Parent Trap’

An article in today’s Sunday Life magazine has made me very cross.

For starters, its title ‘The parent trap’, is a misnomer.

A more truthful headline would have read: ‘Mothers can’t have it all’.

That’s the subtext throughout the article – illustrated by example after example of why mothers need to be around more not less as their children grow older.

Yet not one father was interviewed for the article, nor one case study shown that illustrates the joint-decision making being made in many households across the country around how to best meet the needs of our young, and the adjustments to careers of both fathers and mothers being made to accommodate this.

The article makes the case that teenagers are more in need of close parental supervision than toddlers, to help them manage the increasing emotional and social complexities they experience from ages 10 onwards.

The ages 10-14 are described by the experts interviewed as the pivotal time for more ‘nuanced parenting’, and in general, it’s parents who are best placed to provide that.

Statistics are provided that paint a picture of most working mothers (mothers again!) still adhering to the traditional model of cutting back their hours when their children and young, then increasing their paid work as their children get older.

That reflects my own work journey while a parent, yet with an 11 year old and a 9 year old, we’re on the cusp of that sweet spot where both our children are requiring more not less of us.

We already experience it in the more complex issues they seek both of us out to help them process. Why is so and so always negative to me?  I got two unexpected hugs today – why?  The latest ripper – Why do I exist?

Somehow, with supportive employers, and both of us working full time and close to home, between us we still manage to pick up our kids from school and get them to their after school activities, and supervise their homework (sort of!), three days out of five.

The other two days the children are fortunate to be with a carer, who has had them both since they were babies, who loves them dearly and is loved dearly in return.

With our son about to embark on his final year of primary school, and the more complex years of secondary school looming, we are already talking about how we can ensure one of us is present for the kids after school most days.

And not just physically present – but emotionally present – and not mentally and physically exhausted from the demands of work.

I know many fathers who are likewise part of similar conversation with their partners – and many who have made decisions about their careers based on equity and putting their families ahead of their careers – but their voices are noteably absent from this article.

That’s why I am cross.  Because articles like this reinforce the prevailing view – backed up by legislation and acted out in workplaces across the country – that children are primarily a mother’s responsibility.

It diminishes the importance of fathering, and it diminishes us all.

Trust your gut – even after you’ve gorged on data

Feeling like you’ve OD’d on data? Lost track of your own radar to discern the gold from the dirt?

As primarily a ‘right brain’ creative type working in communications I’ve come to accept the wisdom that good data can bring to authentic decision-making and story-telling.

I like a good chart or a pie graph that shows whether we’re hitting the mark with our communications.

But I reckon as communicators we need to trust our instincts more once we’ve reviewed the available evidence.

We need to get out of the left-brain and operate more from our right, where we are really more at home and where we have honed our finest crafts.

Even when everyone around you might be banging on about ‘the data’ and staring at graphs as if they’re the final coming.

Throw in a question about how the data makes people feel.

Probably uncomfortable, irritated, frustrated or even dismissive.

Which they may not even be able to articulate but will possibly reveal through their behaviour with a curt response, or no response (a response in itself!).

But stick with it.

Try bringing the language of feelings back into the boardroom.

For example the data might be telling you it makes good business sense to cut costs by cutting staff.

If however people could get to the heart of how that made them feel – and more importantly how those who would be impacted might feel – maybe a more creative solution could be found.

Maybe even from the very staff in the firing line.

How good might such an outcome make everyone feel? How good might that ultimately be for your business?

Jane Caro, well known copyrighter and Gruen Transfer panellist, has seen too many researchers lost in data and absolutely unable to connect with the most important person in all communications – the receiver.

She told a group of ‘youth marketers and communicators’ at a Sydney forum on Marketing and Communicating with Today’s Youth:

‘We have to stop thinking so much and feel more.”

‘All purchasing decisions are made emotionally not rationally. From the guts.’

It was so refreshing to hear a presentation without any data or PowerPoint to back her up – just a passionate and authentic speaker with one clever exercise in her tool kit.

She got her audience to list as many life experiences as we could from the big to the banal then a list of feelings we might feel in response.

At the end everyone admitted to feeling most if not all of the pages and pages of possible feelings.

Jane says there’s almost always a 100% response to this exercise.

‘What we all have in common is the emotional response to our life experiences,’ she said.

‘If you get the emotion right in your communications everyone will connect.’

So, what do you think about the need to trust our instincts and feelings more as communicators?

Or I should say – what do you feel?

A new career chapter with a ‘young at heart’ organisation

Tomorrow I embark on the next chapter of my career.

I take up my first executive management role – in my mid 40s. Exciting!

I did run my own small business for 11 years, so in some ways I’ve been ‘at the table’ (sometimes quite literally the kitchen table!) before.

And I like to think I’ve ‘been the table’ on many critical occasions – both professionally and personally – using the wisdom and experience accumulated along life’s crooked path to provide insight and advice.

However, this is definitely a step up and I’m both excited and a little nervous – mostly excited.

Since I ran my own business I’ve grown personally – getting married, losing my mum, having a family, navigating kids through early years of pre-school and interventions and successfully off to school, enduring an agonizing ‘builder going broke’ renovation: the whole wild, mad, crazy juggle of it all.

And I’ve grown professionally: learning how to be effective and have impact inside a complex, growing, dynamic, not for profit.

From a relatively junior part-time two day a week ‘toe back in the water’ role with YMCA Victoria post parenthood when my confidence and ambitions were small (the shock of parenthood can do that to some), over time I was able to gradually navigate a path to management as my children grew, I grew and the YMCA grew.

Not surprisingly to anyone who’s followed my blog or regular tweets, I haven’t flown far.

I’m still with the YMCA, only with the national office at YMCA Australia.

My career journey with the Y strikes me as the essence of what the YMCA stands for.

In my time with the Y, I’ve been empowered to grow, to lead, to shine – and along the way I’ve tried to light the leadership fire in others, both young and young at heart.

Globally, ‘the Y’ may be over 160 years old, but it’s definitely young at heart, constantly evolving with the times to remains relevant to local communities and having social impact in 119 countries.

This Saturday the YMCA is aiming to create a world record, aiming to have 5 million people taking part in the YMCA World Challenge – a basketball activity event.

I’ll be at one of the 30 YMCA managed centres hosting an event in Melbourne, throwing a few hoops at a ring, enjoying being part of something inspiring taking part right across the globe from Africa and Asia to Europe and the United States.

Think I’m going to enjoy the new gig!

Follow me @DiFromTheY and @YMCAAustralia

My daughter Bianca and her friends Samson and Daniel, getting ready for the YMCA World Challenge on Saturday 13 October.

From Psychologist to CEO

As the eldest of five, Mandy Burns is quite possibly a ‘natural born’ leader, used to responsibility, authority and taking charge of groups.  

At just 37, Mandy was promoted to the position of Chief Executive Officer with the Ardoch Youth Foundation, to lead this not-for-profit committed to changing the odds for disadvantaged children by removing barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create. 

 She reckons she naturally does better and prefers working in groups – and she should   know: Mandy’s first career was as a psychologist, counselling people injured at work.

“In broad terms I was interested in working as a psychologist to help people and really liked understanding the link between people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours,” she says of her first career.

But it was volunteering in the community sector while at university – working first with young people, then later on the not for profit boards that ran the programs – that really inspired Mandy’s vision for her future.

So after three years as a psychologist she quit to seek work with children and young people that aligned with her strong social justice values. 

Engage in a conversation with Mandy about working with schools to support all of their children, especially those experiencing disadvantage, and you’ll be left in no doubt whatsoever about these values.

In 1997 she took on her first role with the Ardoch Foundation as a volunteer, steadily progressing her way through the organisation to the role of CEO in 2008.  

“Becoming CEO was exhilarating, inspiring and terrifying. I was proud to be the CEO of Ardoch and to be leading our work in removing the barriers to education for vulnerable children- I also never felt so much weight and desire make a difference.”

Like most of us who work for not for profits, Mandy wants to “change the world”.  And the world she is hoping to create is one in which “poverty is not a determinant in Australian children’s educational opportunities and outcomes”.

It’s a role that’s both hugely rewarding and hugely challenging in a public climate where there is really no such thing, Mandy points out, as “free education”.

Raising a daughter, Maddy, seven, in a community with a huge disparity between those well off and those struggling, heightens her awareness need for organisations like Ardoch to be part of the “village that helps to raise a child”.

“I love seeing the great generosity and compassion that exists in our community when people commit to helping kids, volunteering to help them to read, caring and being a role model, donating food or toiletries, excursions and books to lessen the impact of poverty,“ she says, adding that it’s a pleasure to work with people who share her passion and the challenge of inspiring more people to make a difference.

Mandy’s advice to anyone looking to a career-change is to “make choices based on what makes you happy and be true to your values”.

“If you do this you will find alignment between where you work and what you believe is important.

“Hold this vision even if you do not know how you are going to get there or what the job is because over time you will find yourself doing more of what is important to you.”

  • Find out more about Ardoch’s work in the community at www.ardoch.asn.au and support Ardoch’s current Literacy Campaign to improve children’s reading and writing in disadvantaged communities – in the National Year of Reading 2012, there has never been a more relevant time to support this important work. You can help to remove the barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create to learning and literacy, by donating to Ardoch Youth Foundation today Contact 9537 2414 for further details on donating or volunteering.

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