YES offers Richmond youth valuable experience

July 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A lot of kids may take summer camp for granted, but hundreds of kids from Richmond are getting the camp experience that might otherwise be out of reach. This program is not only fun, but transforming lives.

YMCA Camp Loma Mar is an hour and a half drive from Richmond. It's a distance measured in scenery, not miles.

"[What] I also like about camp is nature hikes and stuff," said Tristan Lampley, a 10-year-old summer camper.

Amid nature's beauty is a summer camp full of activities: there's zip-lining, archery and kickball. And just as important to 12-year-old camper Jane'E Wiley, there are adults who listen.

"There's people here that actually listen to what you have to say and care about your opinion," said Wiley.

Wiley is one of 20 young people at the camp from Richmond. They're just like the other 50 campers except they're at camp thanks to a program called YES -- Youth Enrichment Strategies. Each child sponsored by YES only pays $30 to attend summer camp.

"It's a reality that gunshots are being heard in their backyards, in their neighborhoods. Down here they hear laughter and they hear crickets," said YES executive director Eric Aaholm.

The program has been operating for 12 years, targeting underserved young people ages 8 to 16.

"I think I have been here three years and every year is like the most exciting time of my life," said Jesus Guerrero, a 12-year-old camper.

Every year YES allows 300 to 400 kids to enjoy the camp experience. Some of them get so hooked on what happens there, they come back as counselors.

The camp lasts just one week, but Royce Hughes will tell you those seven days and the leadership programs that followed, changed his life.

"I'd probably be running the streets right now, probably locked up or probably even dead. I'm not even sure," said Hughes, a YES camp counselor.

The summer sessions are mostly about letting kids be kids, but it's an environment that fosters growth. Wiley says camp has given her self confidence.

"I'm hoping that when I go back home, and there are some people that I can play with, that I can teach them some of the games I learned here so we can have some more fun," said Wiley.

The best part about Camp Loma Mar is that what happens here, doesn't stay here.

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