In 1998 Diane Mintz, a Berkeley realtor, decided to volunteer a few hours a week at Coronado Elementary School in South Richmond. While tutoring in a first grade classroom, she coached a child to sound out the word bed. “It’s what you sleep on,” she hinted. The child responded, “I sleep on the floor.”
Eye-opening experiences like this one quickly turned Diane’s casual volunteering into a consuming passion to help children whose lives and expectations were circumscribed by poverty. On weekends, Diane began taking a group of 10 children on field trips to area parks. She was rewarded by the joy she observed when the kids played and explored nature.
That summer, Diane and her son set up trips and excursions to kid-centered Bay Area attractions like the Oakland Zoo, the Exploratorium, and the Marine Mammal Center. For the grand finale, the group camped overnight at Chabot Regional Park. At first the children were frightened at the rustle of every leaf. But by morning, the car-free beauty won them over. At the “goodbye circle” children said that camping was their favorite activity of the summer.
In 1999, Diane founded YES, raising $15,000 from friends to send 81 children to sleep-away camp at YMCA Camp Loma Mar, north of Santa Cruz. Every year since 2001, YES has been able to send at least 300 deserving children to summer camp thanks to the generosity of individual donors, foundations, and businesses that support YES.
YES has expanded in recent years to bring the asset-rich values learned at summer camp into the community. In 2004, YES began its Family Camp program and presently serves three school communities in Central and North Richmond. In 2010, YES launched the Camp-to-Community youth leadership program for 14-18 year olds, and in 2012 started the Wellness Program for adults. Throughout the year YES also offers day outings and wellness events in nearby regional parks that people can access easily and affordably.