Reflections on 20 Years of YES from Blanca Hernández, Program Director

I started working in Richmond in 2002 and that’s how I first came to know the resiliency of the people in this community, along with the systemic challenges they faced. At that time, organizations in Richmond were not as connected as they are now and everyone was doing their part to help out, but there was little time to stop and strategize to come up with upstream solutions.

Once I started at YES in 2008, I fell in love with the organizational culture. Eric, Jo, and Demetria who were the members of the YES team at that time, along with Diane, YES’s founder, welcomed me into the organization and nurtured me. I gained a lot of professional development and started cultivating many friendships along the way. At YES, I felt empowered and able to affect change along with the residents I had grown to love in Richmond.

At that time, for me, YES was a bold concept. The organization provided something so basic: access to the outdoors for underrepresented youth and families. The simplicity in this act was so powerful and it showed as people continued to engage. People from all walks of life felt heard, loved, and valued, and they joined us along the ride to achieve our mission.  

Over the years, YES has evolved and continues to do so. The Richmond community has shaped the organization’s evolution along with the YES team, volunteers, and other stakeholders. Two of the biggest influences in our programming are Youth and Leadership Development best practices. Other influencing components are Social and Environmental Justice, and it's all sprinkled with empathy. Being knowledgeable about what makes a program successful, from setting up safe spaces to modeling inclusive practices, and acknowledging that everyone is walking a path we may know little about, helps us deliver strong programs. I’ll also add that the lack of representation in the outdoor/environmental field is a huge influence on our programs these days.

In the last decade, we have kept a close pulse in the community by joining community-wide efforts and collaboratives like the Richmond Outdoor Coalition, Healthy Richmond, the Richmond Food Policy Council, and many more. When it was needed, we provided communication workshops for parents/caregivers at schools and launched the North Richmond Network to support the Verde school community. As we evolved, we designed and launched the Wellness Program for adults who wanted more leadership training after attending Family Camp weekends, and that program has evolved into our Adult Leadership Program. We are at a place where the organization exudes a humble confidence that makes people want to learn more.

At YES, our vision is for Richmond youth, adults and families to lead healthy, connected lives; motivate change in their neighborhoods; and inspire a safe, thriving community, and we aim to see this vision come true in our lifetime.