Climb Every Mountain

Climb Every Mountain


Youth Enrichment Services expands access for Boston youth to experience the transformative power of outdoor sports


As a 7-year old girl, Rafaela Ugarte-Núñez says, “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into the first day I walked into the Youth Enrichment Services building. I was scared, nervous and dreaded the day that was ahead of me. I didn’t know the entire trip would consist of me falling flat on my face, tripping over myself countless times, and thinking that I would never be any good. Now, as a 17-year-old, I can proudly say I know how to ski.”


That’s not all she can do. A high school senior in Boston, Ugarte-Núñez is a leader and strong communicator—skills she developed thanks in large part to Youth Enrichment Services (YES). 


For children in many of Boston’s neighborhoods, winter can look long and bleak. But YES, a private nonprofit that provides affordable sports-based development and leadership programming, is changing that with opportunities to learn skiing and snowboarding—among many other sports-based programs.


Founded in 1968, YES believes in the transformative power of engaging youth in active outdoor activities. Its stated mission: Inspire and challenge with physical and mental activities that foster lifelong respect for self, others and the environment.


Skiing and more


YES has received funding from Boston Children’s Collaboration for Community Health to expand its existing active outdoor programs. “For the young people we serve,” says executive director Bryan Van Dorpe, “safe outdoor opportunities are a luxury.” Almost half (46%) of the youth are from Roxbury, Dorchester, or Mattapan—the heart of Boston’s high-poverty neighborhoods. A third live in single-parent households, with 84% from low- to moderate-income households. Half of YES participants are girls. 


With a professional staff of 15 and 200 enthusiastic volunteers, YES fills a gap that few urban programs and schools can address. 


A typical trip to the slopes includes anywhere from 50 to 100 children and youth, as young as 7. “We meet early, 5:45 AM, where they get outfitted in our ski shop,” says Van Dorpe. The youth pile on buses and head for one of several ski areas that provide generous in-kind donations: Waterville Valley, Pats Peak, Butternut, Loon and others. YES provides not just the equipment and transportation, but instruction for the skiers—many of whom are first-timers.


For those with a bit more experience, YES offers Youth Excel Through Tailored Instruction (YETTI). This repeat engagement program gives children ages 9 to 12 the opportunity to develop and deepen their downhill skiing and snowboarding skills, while also increasing their strength and stamina. YETTI youth participate in four sessions on the snow throughout the winter, always matched with the same volunteer instructor and group of peers. With funding from the Collaboration for Community Health, YES is expanding this innovative program and piloting Adaptive YETTI for youth with disabilities.


Year-round programs, new partnerships

The funds are also helping to underwrite an expansion of YES’s strategic school partnership program.  That program is adding two new school partners this year: the Dr. William H. Henderson Inclusion Elementary School in Dorchester and James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. Students at these schools will benefit from physical activities that include kayaking, biking and rock climbing and of course, skiing and snowboarding as out-of-school-time programs throughout the school year.


As you would guess from that enviable menu of activities, YES is hardly limited to winter sports; it helps youth stay active and healthy year-round. YES operates a summer Outdoor Adventure program and a year-round track-and-field program that’s immensely successful. More than 400 children and teens participate in track and field and cross country running alone. During the warmer months, practices and events are held outside; during the winter, the exercise and fun continue on an indoor track.

Beyond the physical

The influence of the best sports-and-recreation programs goes far beyond physical prowess: confidence, a sense of purpose, leadership and maturity all develop. In that arena, YES is justifiably proud of its Leadership Corps, which Van Dorpe says combines sports-based programming with a skills-based leadership development curriculum and gives youth the opportunity to give back to their community.


“I take part in Leadership Corps,” Ugarte-Núñez says in an interview, “working with the kids in Operation Snowsports.” She’s also one of the YES Ambassadors, “a group of teens I lead
where they improve public speaking and represent YES at large events.”


What does YES mean to the participants? From her Leadership Corps role, Ugarte-Núñez reflects. Her favorite elements, she says, include “watching every single kid grow…seeing their personality flourish as each trip passes by. To go to a place I feel comfortable in, a place I love. YES is home.”