Matthew Gatt, CFP® shares his experiences volunteering with our community partner, YES Nature to Neighborhoods.
Thirteen years ago, I followed my dream to make a difference. I volunteered as a mentor with Home Away From Homelessness, a nonprofit that supports youth who are homeless or previously homeless in Marin and San Francisco.
Today, the young man that I met at the age of 7, is now 20 years old. What began as a one-year commitment became a long-term relationship for both of us, and I now act as his legal conservator. Over that time, I witnessed a side of life I’d never seen during my own more privileged upbringing. I discovered there isn’t an adequate safety net for youth who lack a stable family, financial resources, and are living with mental illness and/or abusive relationships. This gap in government provided support means that nonprofits like Home Away From Homelessness have to step in to fill the void.
After moving to the East Bay and joining North Berkeley Wealth Management, one of the opportunities that really excited me was the ability to serve my local community. What I didn’t know at the time was how this move was going to introduce me to a nonprofit that served the very need my mentee had so desperately sought after while he was growing up.
YES Nature to Neighborhoods has been a community partner of North Berkeley for over fifteen years, and is based in Richmond. YES works with Richmond youth and families to provide access to the outdoors. They do this through organized summer camps, youth and adult leadership programs and being a resource for the community. In partnership with nature, they nurture leaders who will grow to champion the wellbeing of their community.
I took over as the Board Treasurer for YES two years ago, and have had the pleasure of getting to know this organization from the inside. To share more about the magic they create for local youth, I invited Executive Director Eric Aaholm to discuss what makes their organization such a special community. Click here for my full interview with Eric
To start, YES is committed to supporting the youth and families of Richmond. The organization was founded in 1999 at a time when there was high demand for school enrichment programming. They started with a sleepaway summer camp around the Bay Area for a few lucky kids and have now sent over 5500 youth to camps. It became apparent that parents were interested in their children’s experiences. Soon the organization put together their first Family Camp, which enabled the entire family to experience the wilderness. From there, YES has blossomed into an organization that supports the entire community year-round.
They now provide a Camp-to-Community program for teens that keeps the feeling of camp alive with increased outings in nature locally with peers throughout the year. This wrap around support, tapped into the interest from participants for leadership development, for both teens and adults alike. This interest led to the creation of YES’s Adult Leaders Program, the Youth Engagement Team for Teens, and the Climate Leaders in Action group of Fellows.
Another aspect of YES’s programming is providing formal leadership positions within the organization itself. For the past several years, YES has hired a Peer Advocate whose role it is to support programming during the year. A local Richmond student named Aswun took over the position when he graduated from Richmond High School in 2019. His involvement with YES began at the age of 5, and his path reflects both the way the organization has been able to grow and expand programming as well as the way they effectively shepherd kids through the difficult path of adolescence.
Aswun took every opportunity offered by YES, beginning with experiencing the camps, becoming a team leader, and then a counselor. In Aswun’s own words, “[YES] shaped my character. Communicating with people ten years younger than me, I’ve learned how to connect with people more, compromise, and plan.” YES has also helped him build 21st century skills in writing a resume, paying bills, paying taxes, and time management. This is serving him well as a newly enrolled college student pursuing a career in computer science and engineering.
Spending time outdoors has opened Aswun to other kinds of opportunities as well. He went from imagining a life of staying in the city and never having time to go outside to knowing that he can go to a park or go kayaking. “It changed how I experience life,” he says. He remembers when things were different, when he struggled in school, feeling passed by and overlooked. At YES, on the other hand, participants experience connections, friendship, and being part of what Aswun describes as a genuinely loving friend group. This is exactly the sort of environment that would have made all the difference for my mentee while he was growing up.
As a member of the teams at YES and North Berkeley, I value the support and integration that community can provide, particularly during times of uncertainty. As our lives were turned upside down by the pandemic this spring, our team of advisors rapidly reconvened our services virtually, rather than in our offices. Similarly, YES has also pivoted to meet the ever-evolving needs of their local community.
This past June, YES launched a new ‘Resilience Fund’ intended to provide direct financial support to families in Richmond who have been severely affected by the economic impact of the pandemic. These funds were used for everything from rent to utilities and food security. YES has now granted over one hundred $500 cash disbursements to families so far this summer.
In addition to providing funds, YES is re-launching outdoor programming in the parks with families this fall. With physical distancing and safety protocols in place, youth and families are eager to once again experience the outdoors via hiking, biking, and kayaking with their loved ones and trusted friends at YES.
About Matthew Gatt, CFP®
Matthew is a Lead Advisor with North Berkeley Wealth working with individuals and families to articulate their financial personality, needs, and goals. He also leads our work with our Nonprofit clients.
YES Nature to Neighborhoods
Since 1999, YES has brought nearly 5,000 youth and an additional 1,000 families from low-income Richmond neighborhoods to summer and family camps located in pristine redwood settings across Northern California.
Learn more at yesfamilies.org
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