Susan Swift, Board Member 2007 - 2013
Flashback to the year 1991- almost 30 years ago. I was hired by Contra Costa County Health Department to provide communications services to a number of projects, including tobacco use prevention, bicycle helmets, gun policy, and youth violence prevention. We collaborated with several organizations in West County, and that’s when I met and fell in love with Richmond.
Like most people, I’ve grown up with both challenges and opportunities. However, unlike many of my Richmond neighbors, I never had to face the particularly formidable barriers of racism or economic privation. I deepened my involvement in the community over time: I worked at Contra Costa College, volunteered with the Richmond Y, and served on the El Sobrante Municipal Advisory Council. YES invited me to become a board member in 2007. In those developmental years, we had some growing pains and took many leaps of faith. And those experiences are what bind us together to this day.
I will never forget times around the conference table or times around the campfire up at Camp Jones Gulch in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Some of YES’s milestones and strongest impact over the years include:
• establishing Family Camps and developing the adult workshop component
• moving to a new office right on Macdonald Ave.
• developing progressive leadership training opportunities for youth and adults
• expanding the board of directors and our support base, and
• providing safe environments for taking risks and building confidence.
There are so many things that the YES Board and Staff have done to reach their current level of success. From investing in staff and board training, to hiring local members of the community, to developing really useful and well-loved programs.
YES has been able to handle challenges – from transitions of leadership within the board of directors, to developing and implementing new programs - because of the goodwill it has created, which means that people are willing to help out, and because its work of connecting people to the outdoors is critical.
At the root of it all is the level of trust that YES has earned in the community. Staff and Board interact with YES participants with compassion, but more than that, with respect. There is a real mutuality and common purpose, a familial love that is cultivated among everyone who is connected to YES. There is an expectation that each staff member and board member will bring their best self forward to model open-hearted communication and support whenever together.
When I get cards and updates from YES now, I can actually feel joy emanating from the faces of camp participants. I can see exactly what I felt when I volunteered at YES: the happiness of being free to be myself, the safety of being surrounding by friends and family, and a sense of both wonder and possibility.