History of YMCA Earth Service Corps

YMCA Earth Service Corps emerged out of an idea Bill Sieverling, then director of the YMCA of the USA’s International Office in Asia, proposed in the 1989 issue of the YMCA publication, International Notes. He suggested that given the YMCA’s tradition of youth leadership development and concern for the natural world that there was an opportunity to engage youth in a service-based leadership program that addressed growing concerns about the global environment.

Sieverling’s idea took root at the YMCA of Greater Seattle, where Nan Little and Jennifer Parker breathed life into the initiative. From the beginning, though, YMCA Earth Service Corps was a working partnership of the YMCA, students, teachers, and community leaders – all committed to the common goal of learning to keep our earth fit for life.

With the guidance of students, teachers and YMCA staff as well as the support of business, government, and the community at large the YMCA Earth Service Corps experienced explosive growth during the first year. The initial objective was to involve 100 students from five schools. On November 8, 1989, the Seattle YMCA hosted the programs first official event: an Environmental Symposium at the University of Washington. Two hundred seventy students from 13 Seattle-area high schools attended. Word spread, and soon teachers and parents literally demanded to be included in the program.

Over the next several months students took leadership roles in a series of activities. Experience Days exposed students to various cultures, scientific knowledge, outdoor activities and hands-on environmental action. Fifty students organized Earth Day activities at a winter Leadership Retreat, and 16,000 seedlings were planted. The young people also formed a Student Advisory Council. At the same time, YMCA Earth Service Corps students hosted students from Thailand, Japan and India for a two week exchange.

During the first school year, students started recycling programs in 20 high schools and stenciled hundreds of storm drain covers with the message, ‘Dump no waste, drains to stream’, reminding would-be polluters that waste put into storm drains contaminates streams, lakes and other bodies of water. In May 1990 students, teachers and YMCA staff presented the Earth Service Corps model at the Youth Environmental Action Conference, sponsored by the EPA in Washington D.C.

Over two decades later, YMCA Earth Service Corps continues to adapt and grow as a core program of the YMCA with hundreds of clubs and thousands of students taking part throughout the world.




The mission of the YMCA Earth Service Corps is to empower young people to become effective, responsible, global citizens by providing opportunities for service learning, environmental education, leadership development and cross-cultural awareness. 

Program Objectives

  • To encourage youth people to examine all sides of environmental issues by looking at scientific aspects of the environment and the way history, culture, society, economics and polices affect the way decisions are made;

  • To help young people learn and practice leadership skills by fostering open mindedness, cooperative action, problem solving, and community building;

  • To help young people explore attitudes of different cultures toward the environment by bringing together a diverse group of people to exchange ideas and participate in meaningful projects;

  • To advance education through action by empowering young people to initiate and carry out constructive environmental projects so that that they learn by doing;

  • To promote broad understanding and appreciation of diversity by exposing young people to a variety of cultural experiences and environmental perspectives;

  • To expose young people to career opportunities in science, community development and the environmental field through action projects, community partnerships and networks; and

  • To stimulate growth of YMCA Earth Service Corps by creating high-quality program models and developing a network of support and shared information.


The Year in Review

Each year YMCA Earth Service Corps produces an Annual Report to capture the amazing accomplishments of our enthusiastic student leaders and volunteers. Teens organize and implement waste reduction and water reduction campaigns, undertake habitat restoration projects, build vegetable gardens, stencil storm drains, and much more.

To read a complete report review of our work, click on the links below.


YESC Supporters

YMCA Earth Service Corps is supported by a mixture of community donations, sponsorships and grants. For more information on how you can join YESC as a supporter contact the Earth Service Corps office today.

Horizons Foundation

King Conservation District

The Richard A. (Ricky) Rudine Memorial Endowment Fund

The Russell Family Foundation

Washington Service Corps