How It All began

YCA's Executive Director, Harris Kalofonos, grew up in Athens, Greece. Immersed in the Olympic idea from a young age, the Olympic story was considered a core element in Greek's identity as the Olympics originated in Greece. 

 

When Harris came to the US in 2006, he was surprised by the lack of the public's awareness for the Olympics origin and impact.

As Harris worked at several Olympic Games over the years, he would always wonder what he could do about it.

 

 

In 2014, a lifetime opportunity was presented. After establishing a sister city relationship between the birthplace of the Olympics in Greece and Olympic City USA, Harris and Donna Nelson -inspired by a conversation with the major of Ancient Olympia in Greece- came up with the idea to develop an ambassadorial Olympic education program.

They called it Young Champion Ambassador (YCA)!

Creating YCA - The Difference!

Typically, education programs focus on data delivery and miss their main objective -engaging students.
How can an Olympic education program engage and inspire students?
First, it needs to understand students fully.

How we did it

1. We use data to understand students' and parents' needs and aspirations.

2. We tested reinforcement learning practices that increased student engagement & attention. 

After studying students' responses with varying learning practices, we understood the balancing conditions needed between traditional and creative educational modalities to augment leadership skills.

Turning Point

After years of studying best practices in delivering Olympic-based leadership curriculums, we could pinpoint the leadership life-skill elements world-class Athletes use and achieve.

We developed a curriculum that accurately emulates an elite athlete's mental growth path. Key elements include Connection, Intention, Resilience...

The Results

YCA graduates were able to increase their leadership acumen in the following three ways:

1. Agree on one’s ambition by setting ones’ true north.

2. Bult ones’ system of cascading metrics to measure journey rather than touchpoints, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative metrics that matter to each individual.

3. Ensure one’s ability to visualize & share direction with others

A Surprise


1. Students began to perform public speaking appearances that were better than Olympic Athletes or college graduates.


2. The YCA experience helped students refine their post k-12 educational direction.


3. YCA graduates lead their own social causes.


4. Plus, students would come back to YCA to be mentors.

Your YCA Team

With a vigorous curriculum, dexterous design, historical connection, and contemporary understanding, we are committed to providing a premier education uniquely imparting Olympic values to leaders of tomorrow.

Harris Kalofonos

Managing Director

Harris served the Olympic movement for two decades in key management roles. He has worked at five Olympic Games, the brand team of Olympic City USA, and for Olympic top sponsors like Panasonic.

Harris is always interested in connecting the dots of his past experiences by developing a one-of-a-kind Olympic education program that links people to the origin of the Olympic Movement. Understanding intentions, meeting expectations, activating spaces, and fostering conversations are core values he infuses into YCA’s culture. He lives with his wife time and two daughters in Olympic City USA.

In 2020, Harris was named due to YCA as “one of the top 100 visionaries in education” by the global forum on learning & education.

Donna Nelson 

Government Relations

Donna Nelson is a strong advocate for the City and works tirelessly to include women and minorities in everything she does. Donna serves as the City Liaison for the city’s sister city program and is a leadership team member of YCA.

Donna began her career as a Medical NCO in the United States Army, serving for nine years in the military. She was stationed overseas three times. Donna has received numerous military and community awards. Donna has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years, has one daughter, Jasmine, and 2 extremely smart grandchildren, Soulyman and Fatima, who live in Rockford, IL.

Tad Vannaman

Program Director

A 20-year Air Force veteran specializing in Political-Military Affairs, International Partnership Building, and Human Resources, he is dedicated to developing young leaders of character with global perspectives.

Tad lived in Europe for 6 years with three children and traveled extensively throughout Europe and Africa. He is passionate about creating amazing life experiences for others, educating his community through his areas of expertise, and instilling in our future servant leaders the values and tenants of the Olympic Movement.

Shreya Krishnan

India Director

Shreya creates opportunities for a growing community. An alumnus of the YCA class 2019, Shreya is an Olympic Torch Bearer for the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

She is a talented artist and has performed in Carnegie Hall, Paris, and other notable venues. She has also won state and regional voice competitions, including a National Gold medal for the highest score in the country for voice.

A Principal’s Honor Roll student, she serves in many Honor Societies at her school in leadership roles. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her family and is always eager to explore and discover life.