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YES’s mission since the organization was founded in 1968 by Richard Williams has been to inspire and challenge youth with physical and mental activities that foster life-long respect for self, others, and the environment.
1960s Richard Williams, Mary Williams, and Birdie Ellsmore operated the Special Projects division of the Youth Activities Commission (YAC), a city agency run out of the Mayor’s Little City Hall offices at 73 Hemenway Street in Boston. YAC connected Boston youth to social workers in their neighborhood and helped them find the after-school services and resources they needed to succeed within the city. Richard was inspired by his work with the Special Projects Division within YAC to establish YES in 1968.
1968 YES began with a simple premise: Give Youth a Chance. Take city kids off the street corner and let them ski down a mountain. Let them feel the wind and sun in their faces, and maybe for the first time, the pride of achievement. It’s a whole different world out there. This can create a whole different kid. That is what happened to Richard Williams growing up in New York City.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his call to dream of possibilities, Richard took his passion to Boston and founded Operation Ski Lift. 500 kids from working poor families got that chance this first year.
1970 Operation Ski Lift is founded, helping 500 youth from low-income families experience skiing. (The program is now known as Operation Snowsports.)
1972 One-on-one attention from caring volunteers is the key for 1,000 kids who learn to ski each year. Youth Enrichment Services is incorporated as a 501(c) 3 with a purpose of people helping people. Outdoor recreation is the tool. Education is the purpose.
1975 Leveraging resources from ski resorts and sporting goods stores, as well as free warehouse space from the Christian Science Church, YES expands to year-round programs. Backpacking, canoeing, bicycling and environmental education trips are held at the Cape Cod National Seashore and at Swann Lodge, donated by the state of Massachusetts.
1980 Friends and alumni raise a half million dollars to build new headquarters for YES in the South End and expand programs. Job training for teens begins in the Macomber Rental Shop with 1,200 sets of donated skis, boots, bicycles, and camping gear.
1994 Snowboarding is added to YES’s winter programming
1997 Harvard Business School evaluation finds that “YES has created a highly cost effective program which has a significant measurable positive impact on the lives of urban youth.”
1998 Thirty year anniversary of serving the youth of Boston. “YES made me understand more about people,” says one youth.“Before, I put people into two categories-black and white. Now I see the difference in people comes from where they’re from and their family more than anything else. Before YES I never had been out of my neighborhood.”
2002 Executive Director and Founder, Richard Williams, passes away unexpectedly. His wife, Mary Williams, becomes Executive Director to continue Richard’s legacy of helping youth.
2003 Thirty-five years later, more than 100,000 youth have come through our doors. Many YES alumni remain involved as volunteers and donors.
2004 Richard Williams Memorial Scholarship is established. The goal of the scholarship is to recognize young people who inspire others and embody the values of YES Founder, Richard Williams. The scholarship is awarded annually to graduating high school students involved with YES who demonstrate leadership skills and academic promise as well as aspire to higher education and give back through community service.
2007 YES Academy is established to serve Boston middle and high school students. Programs include Career Exploration, Girls Outdoor Adventure Leaders, and the Junior Volunteer Program as part of a developmentally appropriate curriculum that teaches youth leadership.
2008 Mary Williams retires as Executive Director. Longtime youth development leader, Bryan Van Dorpe, becomes the organization’s third Executive Director.
2011 YES holds its first Gala fundraiser. Over $100,000 is raised at the event to support YES youth.
2013 YES pilots the Youth Excel Through Tailored Instruction (YETTI) program as part of the Operation SnowSports program. In YETTI, youth gain a deeper experiences on the slopes by participating in multiple days on the slopes throughout the winter. Youth are taught by the same volunteer instructor and learn with the same group of peers throughout the season.
The Career Exploration is taught in a Boston Public High School for the first-time ever at the Jeremiah Burke High School in Dorchester.
2014 The Girls Outdoor Adventure Leaders program expands to be offered 2 days per week during the school year. Career Exploration program expands to a second Boston Public School, Charlestown High. YES pilots a Cross Country Ski program in partnership with the Weston Ski Track.
2015 The College Prep program pilots a cohort program to ninth grade students, which offers ninth grade students tailored guidance with the college admission process each year they are in high school. YES was also chosen as a recipient for the prestigious Cumming Foundation’s $100k for 100 Grant program.