Posted by: thebluemusicblog | March 14, 2017


It is great to return to favorite places of your youth! Not to say that I am old now, but some years ago, when I last sat foot in Thessaloniki, I was even younger than today. And it was and still is – a great city with great people and a terrific YMCA! I salute my good friends in Thessaloniki YMCA and say thank you for a wonderful hospitality and welcome back.

J. Boutaris – a famous man of my younger days. He was the famous wine maker Boutaris, who provided the YMCA with the most exquisite quality wines, I still remember the taste of his Retsina, like a warm summer wind through a pine forest. Now he is the Mayor of the city of Thessaloniki and finally I met my hero of younger days. He gave us a great message when we visited him this morning in his beautiful office. He talked to us about the past, of the days of the Ottoman Empire, of the time when one third of the population was Jews, one third was Turks and one third Greec and how they were living harmoniously together.

While we were looking out at the splendid view from the Municipality, the Mayor drew the lines over to the modern situation with ten thousands, hundreds of thousands of refugees and how the local population was able to welcome them, to see the need of people in difficulties because they have been through crisis themselves, but also because of the history, the past, the days of cosmopolitan population of the city.

We are impressed and touched by the positive message from the leading politician of the city. But then he is and has been a long standing member of the YMCA, even its President for some years. And he is talking so well about the collaboration with the YMCA through the  REACT project – Refugee Assistance Community of Thessaloniki.

The standing of the YMCA in the local community can only be illustrated by the main square of the city being called Y.M.C.A. Square!

Dimitris, board member of the local YMCA as well as the National YMCA and Lisa Kalivatsi, the latest employee of the World YMCA, the Secretary for Refugees placed here in Thessaloniki. I have known Lisa for most of my life and she personifies the Thessaloniki YMCA in the best possible way. Tomorrow we are opening the World YMCA Refugee Office in the YMCA building here with three Mayors and National TV present. I am proud to have Lisa on my staff!

Anna is the leader of the REACT programme and is showing us the impressive exhibition of art made by refugee children.

Some of the Syrian children REACT us working with in the YMCA.

John, Ismini, Palestinian translator,  Dimitris are all staff of the REACT programme. Most of the children have never attended school, so now REACT is offering after school activities for the children.

John is an actor and activating the children in different ways. We watched them, and afterwards the parents approached us to express their gratitude for all things the YMCA does for their children. Moving experiences.

P.Gavriilidis, Vice President of the YMCA, Johan Vilhelm, J.Boutaris and another political advisor.

And here the whole meeting in the Mayor’s beautiful office. Look beyond and you will agree!

NBA is not here, but Thessaloniki YMCA introduced basket ball to Greece and has the most superb basket ball museum in its new building.

We were shown around and I told them about my contacts with the President of Harlem Globetrotters and how they want to collaborate with the YMCA.

Maybe I shall ask them to come to Thessaloniki? Then they showed me the first basket concept of the local YMCA and we all had a good laugh!

Christina was showing us around in the museum.

Georgios, Lisa, Doukisa, Georgios are sports staff if Thessaloniki YMCA and great hosts at the museum of basket ball! Thank you!

What a proud part of the YMCA history!

Panos,  Emma and Vasillis ending the evening programme sharing with us on the Camping programme and leadership development. Emma is hopefully one of the new Change Agents being recruited just now!

What a rich and full day – a great walk down memory lane – and a walk into the new future of the YMCA – thank you Thessaloniki – thank you Lisa.


  1. Another beautifully written & photographed column; I always learn so much! Please give my best regards to the Thessaloniki YMCA and its leaders! Thank you, Johan! Eileen Murray

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