As we’ve reported, the Richmond nonprofit Youth Enrichment Strategies (YES) raised enough funds before the start of summer to send more than 300 local kids to camps offering fun and educational activities.
The nonprofit has been fundraising for the effort since 1999, but not for the sole purpose of giving low-income children a single fabulous summer. Through the stories of two former Richmond campers who are now camp counselors, it is apparent the program positively impacts youths throughout their childhood and beyond the campgrounds.
Take the case of 19-year-old Jorge, the camper who became a counselor after YES supported his family financially and also emotionally after his mother and sister were diagnosed with cancer at separate times in his life. And then there’s Ricky, 18, who in spite of his troubled childhood learned to trust others at summer camp.
“Both of these young adults have pretty incredible stories and really illustrate the impact YES has in the community and why this program is so important to the Chamberlins,” said a spokesperson for the Richmond-based Chamberlin Family Foundation, which provided a $2 match this summer for every dollar donated to YES’s camp program.
Here are their stories:
Jorge was shy when he first attended YES Summer camp at age 8. A camp counselor named Dynamite helped ensure Jorge had the best week of his life. Dynamite gave Jorge confidence and had faith in himself.
“Ever since that moment, I made a promise to myself that I wanted to be that counselor someday, making a change in someone else’s life,” he said.
Eleven years later, Jorge is a member of the staff team as YES’ first ever Peer Advocate Intern for the Camp-to-Community program. In this role, he is planning and co-leading C2C activities, conducting outreach and serving as a mentor to inspire other students – like himself – from Richmond. He’s also helping as a camp counselor this summer.
“I always have YES there to help me out and encourage me,” he said.
When Jorge was going into seventh grade, his mother was diagnosed with two types of cancer. YES helped with Jorge and his sisters at the time. Today, his mother is celebrating six years of remission. The family has also struggled financially – something YES was able to help with at times as well. More recently, Jorge’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. YES was there to send her a little care package. The organization has always offered encouragement and support to Jorge and his family.
Jorge has always been thankful for the unconditional support YES has offered. He’s become a constant volunteer and advocate for the organization working to introduce more locals to the programs offered and opportunities for leadership experience. Now, as a counselor, Jorge’s work is inspiring others. At the end of a session last summer, a camper pulled Jorge aside – who uses the camp name Bazzinga – and told him he had changed his life. Jorge’s practice of sharing quote when reflecting was inspiring to the young camper.
Now the 19-year-old is also helping work with local youth to highlight community health and wellness resources many aren’t using. He plans to also continue his studies at Contra Costa College this fall.
Ricky was an untrusting child until he met a YES camp counselor named Indy.
Ricky moved around a lot as a child. He spent time in foster care and, for some periods of time, didn’t see his father. Constantly moving and changing who he lived with made Ricky question people, particularly strangers. So, at 10, when his friends talked about their experiences at YES camp, Ricky was unsure. At the encouragement of his mom, Ricky attended camp which is where he met Indy.
Indy’s story was similar to Ricky’s. The two bonded.
“It made me realize that not everyone is a bad person. I can trust people. It really opened up my eyes to the good side of humanity,” he said. “Without YES, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”
Ricky was so thankful that he visited the YES offices after camp to thank them for their work. While there, encouraged Ricky to go back to camp and get involved with the organization’s youth leadership program Camp-to-Community. YES showed Ricky how he could help other kids with similar backgrounds. Now Ricky likes to spend time giving back.
For example, the recent Richmond High School graduate with plans to enlist in the Marines likes to draw. He’ll go to the Richmond Art Center and help children with their artwork. This summer, he’s working with children at YES Camp as a counselor; the kids call him Einstein.
“Last year, the first week I was at camp in leadership training, I had a camper walk up to me and say he wanted to come back and have me as his counselor. When he told me that, I knew I had to come back,” he said.