Since he was young, Hussein Al Ali has loved coming to the YMCA of Greater Saint John; he feels it kept him from going astray in his teenage years. He started coming to the YMCA to swim and to go to the gym since it is located close to his home.
“As a young teen, it is a good place to be while growing up,” says Hussein. “It was really nice to come here as a young child to enjoy your time.”
Hussein arrived with his family as a Government Assisted Refugee from Syria in 2016, settling in the Crescent Valley Region of Saint John. Soon after coming here, Hussein resumed his education within Grade 6 at Hazen White-St. Francis School.
“I was probably one of the first people in Hazen White-St. Francis School to speak Arabic,” says Hussein.
The first year was challenging for Hussein as the instruction was entirely in English. When his parents attended the LINC program (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) at YMCA Newcomer Connections, Hussein used to hang out at the YMCA to stay active. It took an entire year to get the hang of the language, but Hussein’s hard work paid off. In Grade 7, Hussein was recognized with the Turnaround Award, bringing home a lot of excitement and a sense of achievement.
“Once you cross the language barrier, things get easier, and everything just flows along,” says Hussein.
In 2017, Hussein joined the first iteration of the Youth Leadership Program at the YMCA, where he participated in the photo shoot, adding his smile to the collection of photos within the building. He then participated in the Y Lead and YCAN programs (YMCA Community Action Network), completing community service projects with other youth from Saint John.
“Hussein is extremely likable and has this almost unintentional humour that can put a smile on anyone’s face,” says Kendra Gautreau, the YCAN Coordinator of YMCA of Greater Saint John. “For still being young himself, Hussain has had a lot of reasonability from a young age when his family first came to Canada. He has adapted really well to Canadian culture and has grown into a respectful, polite, young member of the community.”
As a teen, Hussein continued coming to the YMCA to use the pool and gym, focusing on his health and always staying active. In school, Hussein was highly athletic, earning numerous medals and showcasing his leadership qualities. Moving into Grade 10, Hussein shifted his focus to education to find something fitting for his future. Whenever he came to the Y, he liked helping with Arabic interpretation to help people in the community. It led him to another milestone – a job at the Y.
“I always wanted a job here at the Y, and I was lucky enough to get a job here as a lifeguard,” said Hussein.
In April 2022, Hussein received another surprise when his gym teacher at Hazen White-St. Francis School told him he was being awarded the NBIAA’s Raymond Légère Excellence Award for the Southern Conference AAA Boys for his outstanding qualities, both within academics and sports.
“It felt really great, really rewarding,” says Hussein about being presented with the award. “When you do something, you don’t expect anything in return, but it feels rewarding to get something back.”
In fall 2022, Hussein will join the Health Program by Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick at the UNB Saint John Campus, and he aspires to continue into medical school in the future. His work as a lifeguard created a link between school and medicine for him while helping him stay healthy. He appreciates being present in a welcoming, safe space like the Y, at such a convenient location that helped him try new things and guided him as he grew up.
Hussein’s message to the youth of Saint John is, “Don’t get distracted. Always keep walking a straight line and working on your path.”