In 1989, a group of youth from Garfield High School in Central Seattle wanted YMCA support for their tree planting event, Earth Day in May. With help from Bill Sieverling, Nan Little, and Jennifer Parker, the planting event blossomed into a collaborative, youth-led program to address growing environmental concerns.
YESC experienced explosive growth during the first year. The goal was to involve 100 students from five schools. On November 8, 1989, YMCA of Greater Seattle hosted the program’s first official event: an Environmental Symposium at the University of Washington. 270 youth 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 year, youth led a series of Experience Days – exploring culture, science, outdoor recreation, and hands-on environmental action – launching classic YESC components like the Leadership Retreat, Student Advisory Council, and habitat restoration. Youth also hosted students from Thailand, Japan, and India for a two-week cultural exchange.
In May 1990, youth, teachers and YMCA staff presented the Earth Service Corps model at the Youth Environmental Action Conference in Washington D.C. Grants enabled YESC to expand nationally throughout the 90s, establishing six regional resource centers based in Boston, New York, Nashville, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle - at one point serving over 20 cities.
In the early 2000s YESC Seattle introduced the Eco-Retreat - a weekend of intensive leadership training and outdoor activities. In 2005, YESC organized a week-long service trip to Costa Rica. 2009 saw the first Environmental Leaders Summit, celebrating YESC’s 20th anniversary.
Three decades later, YESC continues to adapt and grow. YESC Seattle serves over 30 schools in the Puget Sound, emboldening young people to be leaders and change makers in their community.