2020-2021 YMCA Earth Service Corps Year in Review

Last updated: August 17, 2021, at 12:28 p.m. PT

Originally published: August 10, 2021, at 12:17 p.m. PT

A group of youth wearing masks and sitting outdoors by beautiful mountains.

Notes From The Director

Chelsey Wheeler, YESC Director

What a year. With COVID-19, social unrest, and issues of social and environmental justice front and center, it would have been reasonable to assume that this year’s challenges might have drawn attention away from environmental clubs. It would, after all, be easier to just wait to resume until school was back in person. That’s not what youth wanted or asked for, though, and YESC staff admirably responded to the call. Youth in schools across the Puget Sound, from Seattle to Issaquah and Edmonds to Highline, decided to continue to meet virtually and to adjust their projects to fit the virtual circumstances. From social media campaigns, educating themselves about new environmental topics, legislative advocacy, DIY green projects, to grow-at-home garden kits, youth showcased creativity and adaptability by finding ways to further their passions while at home.

The YESC staff team went above and beyond to ensure that youth were supported. Whether it was mailing bees waxor seed packets to youth, creating new campaigns like the Art & Activism series and the Mental Health Month series, new events like the Environmental Justice panel featuring local BIPOC activists, or finding new and creative virtual adaptations of icebreakers, YESC staff kept youth at the forefront of their minds. I am so impressed by what the YESC community accomplished this year, and so grateful for the time, energy, and love that both teens and staff put into the year. I continue to be awed by the way that the YESC community leaned into the challenges of this year, found success, and showed such leadership and perseverance.


2020-2021 at a Glance

  • 17 Virtual and in-person events
  • 837 teens participated in YESC
  • 6,724 service hours completed by youth
  • Thousands of garden seeds mailed in YESC garden kits

YESC Impact Statistics

  • 86%: I share my environmental knowledge with others because of YESC
  • 92%: YMCA Earth Service Corps is making a positive impact in my life
  • 86%: Because of YESC I am now confident in my critical thinking and problem-solving ability
  • 78%: I am confident in my ability to bring a group together to work toward a common goal

Impact Stories

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

By Jessie Dirks, YESC Program Instructor

The Group of youth who painted the Roosevelt Mural. (The Roosevelt mural will be described later in this blog.) The youth in the photo are waving the peace sign and wearing colorful orange t-shirts.

One of the biggest challenges for Y Earth Service Corps during the pandemic was encouraging teamwork in a virtual setting. The youth we serve were physically separated from each other, and often couldn’t see each other’s faces. My team and I brainstormed ways to give youth opportunities to collaborate with each other and reflect on what they were going through. So much of their lives was structured around homework, tests, and college applications that it could be difficult to take a break and process everything.

Youth at Roosevelt High School’s Green Team responded by planning an art event in which youth could create designs for their own murals. We landed on the name “Paint Your Place,” an event where folks could design a mural which sends a message about one’s personal connection to their place and youth leaders facilitated the icebreaker they chose, then shared some art pieces they had created which reflected the isolation and inequities brought by the pandemic. The entire event inspired Roosevelt Green Team to carry on the idea and collectively design a mural for their school campus.

After months of work designing the mural, getting permission from RHS and collecting donations of paint, supplies, and even installation support for the mural, the members of the Green Team were ready to paint. Finally, on a hot summer morning in June, the Roosevelt Green Team gathered in person to paint their mural and put brush to plywood. They shared the following dedication for the mural, highlighting the sense of connection and community that they built despite this incredibly challenging year.

Colorful Roosevelt Mural painting. Colors include, dark blue, dark orange, dark lime green, blue, black, and dark red.

This mural is dedicated to Ms. Gregory, an influential art teacher at Roosevelt who died by suicide in 2020. She was very impactful to the school community and loved by her students. She had a strong presence in both the art community and the school and was a talented artist. The Orca in the stars represents those who have passed on, while the Orca in the ocean represents those still here today. Like each member of the critically endangered Southern Resident Orcas, every member of the community is important and valued. The Roosevelt Green Team of 2020-2021 hopes that this mural reminds future students of Ms. Gregory and inspires them to take action to save the Pacific Northwest wildlife. 


Youth Perseverance

By Julia Mason, YESC Program Instructor

As a Program Instructor with the YMCA Earth Service Corps, I am so proud of what youth have achieved this year. Not only have they succeeded in their stated goals -- from letters written to their school board administrators, to (socially distant) trash pickups to the many, many “how to recycle” videos they created – they have also developed confidence and compassion as leaders. Despite the challenges of remote learning, YESC youth showed up for each other and what they believed in – equity, justice, environmental protection, and more – week after week. It has been a miraculous journey for many of them – from the shy freshman who struggled to speak up in Zoom meetings and now leads discussions, to the sophomore who had never grown a single plant before but is now applying for internships on urban farms.

Reflecting on how far some of these youth have come since the beginning of the year is truly incredible. The positivity and appreciation these youth have modeled over the course of the year continues to surprise and inspire me. Everyone knows it’s hard to be a teen, and now even more than usual. But rather than moping about missing social events like homecoming and prom, these youth have persevered. They’ve worked hard for what they believe in. Every time they planted a seed, wrote a letter, or picked up trash, they were a little more emboldened by their ability to create change locally, even when the world’s problems seem so big.


Two young people trimming a tree.

"I learned how much just one person caring about environmental issues can help and how much of an impact I can make." - Youth at Redmond High School


"Two skills I developed this year are speaking up for myself & my opinion and researching & finding credible sources for my information." - Youth at Lake Washington High School

A group of youth taking photos of a waterfall.

"I’m proud of educating myself on environmental issues and taking action to stop them." - Youth at Roosevelt High School


Thank You

Thank you to our AmeriCorps volunteer team who served directly with YESC youth this year and delivered amazing experiences during COVID: Hadley Hobbs, Jessie Dirks, Julia Mason, Lauren Anderson, Robby Holmes, and Victoria Pedrosa.

Thank you to our Advisory Board members and committee members: Blair Griffin, Casey Ralston, Courtney Bobsin, KayLani Siplin, Melissa Chance, Monali Patel, and Randi Eseltine.

To learn more about YMCA Earth Service Corps visit us at our websiteFacebook, or Instagram