Perhaps you have heard about YES—Youth Engaged in Service–and wondered just what it is all about. The impetus for starting this program in 2007 by the Burlington Rotary Club was to provide a platform for local students to create an Interact Club in their high school. That has been quite successful as Burlington Rotarians have continued to sponsor YES teams year after year.
In 2012 YES was recognized as a District 5050 youth program which involves three avenues of service: youth, community, & international.
Like Rotary, the main objective of YES is Doing Good in the World…both locally and internationally. YES students and their adult mentors meet each month to develop leadership skills, share their local service experiences, learn about Rotary, prepare for an international humanitarian project, and raise support for both their program fee and the project materials. Each student is responsible for $1,500 of the program cost. They fundraise with car washes, raffles, and many other activities.
The students start to bond together at a weekend retreat where they are responsible for bringing and cooking all of the food as well as planning some of the activities.
Developing leadership skills is a major component of YES which is enhanced by the students’ attendance at the Youth Adventures in Leadership weekend (YAIL).
Each student is required to provide 80 hours of volunteer service locally during their YES year to experience the needs in their own community. A minimum of 40 hours are contributed at one site, so they become a relied upon volunteer and experience the value of on-going, targeted service. Students often continue this relationship the following year.
The YES year culminates in an international humanitarian service project in partnership with on-site NGOs. Here are some of the amazing things these high school youth have accomplished.
In partnership with YouthLinc, the first YES team traveled to Santa Rosa village in Peru, teaching lessons they had created for the school children in Spanish and demonstrating infant CPR to the adults.
In 2008 YES partnered with Hands for Peacemaking after some of the Burlington Rotarians were involved in building a school in Guatemala. The team traveled to the remote village of Nuevo Santiago, Guatemala where, along with the villagers, they built a pig barn and purchased several pigs to provide a long-term food source.
A massive piece of ground was cleared by the villagers before the team’s arrival and they taught the villagers how to plant a garden. The problem of not having safe drinking water was alleviated with ONIL water filters. This reduced the documented cases of diarrhea from 60 to 15 the first year and the reported cases of fever from 75 to 20. The team built relationships and brought some fun into the lives of the children who only had sticks and rocks to play with.
A new team of students returned to Nuevo Santiago the next summer, bringing with them family pictures that had been taken the year before—for most the first one ever. This was especially meaningful to one family who had lost a loved one during the year.
The villagers had asked the year before for help to solve the problem of rain coming through the plastic roofs on their homes causing their children to become ill. Forty families needed metal roofs at a cost of $300 each. This was a huge challenge. Burlington Rotarians and friends stepped up and the family-to-family roof project came to life. Pictures were taken of the generous folks who provided the roofs to the families who needed them and the team took pictures of the very grateful Guatemalan families to take back home to the roof donors. Family-to-Family—one family caring about another family.
The 2010 team was all girls. They planted 450 orange, lemon, and avocado trees because fruit was scarce in the village. YES supplied the village school children with their first textbooks and other school materials. They purchased chickens and learned how to hammer nails and build chicken coops to provide families with meat and eggs for their diet as well as the opportunity to create a small business. As always, the villagers worked right alongside the team.
After three years, Burlington Rotary was joined by Fidalgo Island Rotary and Anacortes Rotary for the last trip to Nuevo Santiago.
A major source of illness in many villages is poorly constructed and improperly placed latrines. The team purchased the materials and built 30 latrines in four days. Hands for Peacemaking has a workshop in Barillas that employs local men to manufacture the latrine kits and many other useful items.
The Westport Windriders Kite Club donated kites for the children and the YES students designed and built a play structure with swings and monkey bars. A sewing project was created for the women.
In 2012 YES truly became a District-wide program when Haney Rotary & Meadow Ridge Rotary each sponsored a student.
Seventy-five families in the remote village of Chiblac Palmira received Aler stoves, manufactured locally by Hands for Peacemaking. Before the wood –burning stoves were installed, the villagers cooked on open fires on the floor of their one-room houses, causing respiratory illnesses and injuries to kids from burns. This was in addition to the negative impact to the environment. Cutting trees for firewood has resulted in extreme deforestation which has been a major contributor to the horrific mudslides of recent years. Much needed watersheds are also affected by deforestation. Aler stoves are very efficient and burn 65% less wood than open cooking fires. Every family who received a stove paid a small amount and agreed to plant the 15 tree seedlings they were given to help reforest their area.
One YES student had the idea of creating sewing kits with material, thread, needles, and pins and taught the village women how to sew potholders.
Aler stoves were once again the main project in 2013 for the villages of La Lucha Villa and San Juan La Ceiba. Village kids learned how to use the tools, helping to build a stove for their family, and more mothers were able to prepare food standing up without worrying about smoke or burns.
Every international trip ends with a kids carnival planned by the YES students.
In 2014 the YES program had two teams, continuing the long-standing relationship with Hands for Peacemaking and working with a new international partner, Opal House, also in Guatemala. South Everett/Mukilteo Rotary and La Conner Rotary joined the program and Haney Rotary piloted an all-Canadian team.
In 2017 the eight member YES team traveled to Rio Espiritu, Guatemala. They worked with Hands for Peacekeeping Foundation staff to install 74 Aler stoves for families that had been cooking on open fire pits or on make-shift stoves. Students also spent two days being tourists in the historical city of Antigua.
Eight Rotary Clubs in District 5050 have sponsored a total of 44 students during the last eight years. These students have contributed over 3,500 hours of local community service.
Individual Rotarians have opened their hearts and their wallets to provide metal roofs, latrines, chicken coops, and stoves to improve the lives of so many men, women, and children who live in circumstances that are hard to imagine.
You are invited and encouraged to get involved. The club’s commitment is $2,000 for each student sponsored. Students need to be in their Junior Year–Grade 11—of high school so they have the time during the school year to complete 80 hours of community service and will still be in school the following year to provide the leadership for their Interact club.
Individual Rotarians can also become involved by participating in a team as one of the adult mentors which provides an opportunity of later being selected as a team leader and the training to facilitate a new team.
Being involved in YES profoundly changes how you think about life.