Richmond Commuters Trade Four Wheels For Two

By David Meza

Sequoia Erasmus,Gabino Arredondo,Emila Lipman,Marilyn Langlois,Jovanka Beckles, Adam Linz

Even though the weather threatened to rain on their parade, nearly 700 Richmond commuters took part in the annual Bike to Work Day May 14.

The event encourages commuters to leave their cars at home and choose alternate transportation to get to work — a way to save on gas, skip traffic and get some exercise all in one.

The City of Richmond, in collaboration with local businesses and advocacy groups, hosted four “energizer stations” across the city where riders could get coffee, snacks and a tote bag filled with giveaways on their way to work. Stations were located at Marina Bay Park, the Richmond Greenway, the intersection of San Pablo and Macdonald avenues and the Richmond BART station.

Mike Uberti, a health and sustainability associate with the city, said Richmond has organized a Bike to Work Day for the past six years.

“Bike to Work is special because it is a regional event, with Richmond riders joining the greater Bay Area to showcase biking as an effective, popular mode of transportation,” Uberti said. “It also encourages first-time riders, or people who may not just regularly bike, to think of bicycling as more than an activity or hobby, but also as a reliable commute option.”

For Emila Lipman, the event became her first time riding her bike to work. Now, she said, “I will try to bike the 14 miles to work once a month.”

New this year were volunteers from Pogo Park, who took pedestrian-biking surveys at the Richmond Greenway station, looking to find out more about bike use and pedestrian infrastructure needs in the community.

Uberti said this was also the first year that the event didn’t see a substantial increase in riders — which he said was a good thing.

“In the past, we were noticing a growing trend, but now we are starting to see a more established base of riders who recognize biking as a safe and reliable option within Richmond,” he said. “We hope to continue to build bicycling as a cost-efficient, sustainable, and safe method of transportation for the Richmond community.”

Other organizations to participate included Bike East Bay, 511 Contra Costa, Rich City Rides, The Richmond Bicycle / Pedestrian Advisory Committee and local business SunPower.

Richmond bart Bike rack

The Great Tomato Sale

Photo Essay • David Meza

Did you know that Russia has its own special tomato? How about Japan? Kentucky?

If you attended the Great Tomato Plant Sale, “Heirlooms Of The World,” at the AdamsCrest Urban Farm in East Richmond Heights Apr. 11, you would have seen all of them and more. University of California Master Gardeners,
along with city environmental officials and local agricultural advocates, all collaborated to host the annual event, now in its fourth year.

The sale featured high-quality heirloom tomato and vegetable plants, each for $3. More than 200 attendees chose from over 50 varieties of tomatoes, raised by master gardeners from the university and recommended to grow well in home gardens in this area. Also for sale were varieties of vegetable plants, grown on the farm by Urban Tilth, which advocates for healthy food and cultivates agriculture in the county.

The tomato plant sale proceeds will go to support community education classes and the community gardens at the university. Master gardeners from the university were also on hand to answer questions on plant selection, planting, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting and protecting plants from insects.

In partnership with the master gardeners, the city of Richmond’s Environmental and Health Initiatives gave away free compost to community members at the event. Traditionally, the city hosts its own annual compost giveaway, but this year joined forces with the university and Urban Tilth for a community collaboration.

“Instead of hosting [the compost giveaway] independently like past years, we felt the event and donation would be more effective if we collaborate with groups already leading gardening and urban agriculture initiatives in the community,” according to Richmond Health and Sustainability Associate Mike Uberti.

Republic Services donated the compost from its Richmond facility. Richmond remains one of the only cities in the Bay Area with a closed-loop composting program, in which it transforms food scraps from residents into compost and returns it to them.

Along with offering vegetable and locally made honey, staff from Urban Tilth coordinated their monthly volunteer day, in which community members can learn hands-on about sustainable methods for growing food while harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables.

AdamsCrest Farm, formerly a field of the recently closed Adams Middle School, was repurposed by Urban Tilth into an operational farm in 2009.

Green 2.0 Wants to Know: How Diverse Is Your Staff?

By Chanelle Ignant

A national campaign to make environmental groups more racially diverse is asking Bay Area non-profits to share their diversity data with the public.

It’s the first step in addressing a problem that’s been going on for decades: People of color are disproportionately affected by environmental problems like pollution, yet environmental organizations continue to be almost entirely white.

“Diversifying the staff at foundations, non-profits, and in government will lead to better decisions and smarter engagement,” said Tomás Torres, the San Diego Border Office Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Torres spoke at “Breaking the Green Ceiling,” a forum of more than 200 environmental advocates and community members held this month at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

People of color make up less than 16 percent of the staff of environmental organizations, according to a report released last year by Green 2.0, a group dedicated to making the environmental movement more racially diverse.

Authored by Professor Dorceta E. Taylor, the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the report found that none of the largest environmental groups had a president, vice president, or associate director who was a person of color.

Yet polls show that people of color tend to be more supportive of environmental issues than whites, and are more impacted by environmental problems, from air pollution to lack of clean water.

Through confidential interviews and surveys, the report found that “alienation and ‘unconscious bias’” were hampering recruitment and retention of talented people of color. It also found that while environmental groups talk about the importance of having a diverse staff, they haven’t taken steps to do something about it.

“Commitment to diversity must come from the highest levels of an organization,” said Torres. “Anything less is lip service.”

In order to hold environmental groups accountable, Green 2.0 is asking non-profits to submit their diversity data to GuideStar.

“Submitting data to GuideStar allows us to establish an important baseline to measure diversity efforts,” said Robert Raben, president of The Raben Group and founder of Green 2.0. “We advocate accelerating efforts to diversify the mainstream environmental movement because the current state of diversity in the leadership of the mainstream environmental sector is not where it needs to be.”

So far, Green 2.0 has received pledges from more than 60 leading organizations in addition to over 800 groups that have already submitted their data.

Tech entrepreneur Hank Williams compared the push for transparency to the same pressure placed on the tech industry last year.

“If tech can be transparent about diversity data,” he said, “the green movement can too.”

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Continuing a Tradition of Service

Photo Essay, David Meza

Nearly twenty organizations working under the umbrella group “Friends of the Richmond Greenway,” and hundreds of participants came together on January 19 for the 8th annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway—a special tradition in Richmond.

The day of service started with big smiles and sleepy children as volunteers picked up trash, laid down mulch to help control weeds, planted native flowers and shrubs and rode bikes up and down the greenway.

This year, residents also gave input to shape the new “Unity Park,” a $5 million project funded by the California State Parks Department to transform sections of the greenway into a park featuring a community plaza, children’s play area and community garden. According to organizers an estimated 80 local residents will be hired and paid prevailing wage from the grant funds to complete specific tasks.

Chiffon Pruitt from Artisan Hub, a Richmond art collective, led a group providing input on the greenway and added mulch to a newly adopted spot.

The event also drew out newcomers to Richmond, like Shala White from Pinole.

“I never knew anything about the greenway,” White said. “I got there and I was impressed that the community could come together to create something so beautiful in a town that has so much negativity pinned to it.”

“My favorite part was seeing people from the mayor on down to high schoolers of every race, ethnicity and background come together to enhance their community,” she added.

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Seeing Gardens in the Blight

Photo Essay, Luis Cubas

Richmond is a city plagued with blight. While some areas are revitalized, too many lots are left empty throughout neighborhoods—standing out like gaps in a crooked smile.

While out on a walk down California Avenue, in the North and East neighborhood near Richmond High School, I passed three large lots in just a few blocks. They looked like they’d gone untouched for years; covered with weeds, garbage and old appliances.

Looking at them, I wondered, “What would happen if these lots were transformed into community gardens?”

Tim Higares, a code enforcement manager in Richmond, said the number of vacant lots is in the hundreds, and growing. But, he said there’s hope in the blight.

He cited the new community garden at Harbor 8 Park on the Richmond Greenway and the ongoing Mathieu Court greening project in the Iron Triangle as examples of efforts to beautify vacant, dilapidated areas.

“The city is in support of anything that will improve or stabilize the community,” he said.

“We would much rather see a beautiful green community garden than a ugly lot that’s full of trash and debris.”

Already some cities, and the state, have taken moves to support the idea of using vacant lots for growing food.

Last November the Oakland City Council approved changes to the city’s agricultural regulations to allow gardeners to grow vegetables on vacant lots and sell without a permit, as long as they receive permission from the property owner. And in 2013, California passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones, which gave private landowners a financial reason to consider turning their vacant lots into a garden oasis: a lower property tax rate for those who allow their land to be leased for urban agricultural for at least five years. Unfortunately this new law isn’t applicable in Richmond because it applies only in urban areas with a population of at least 250,000 people—Richmond has around 110,000 residents.

Nevertheless, I would like to see Richmond’s vacant lots transformed this year. By allowing these spaces to be used for gardening, the community of Richmond could benefit with fresh vegetables, and an improved landscape.

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Composting Program Expands to Richmond Businesses


Nancy Deville, Richmond Pulse

A new weekly curbside service is helping Richmond businesses be a bit greener without the hassle.

Richmond Sanitary has launched a commercial food scrap collection program to pick up scraps from businesses in Richmond, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Pinole, Hercules and unincorporated West Contra Costa County. Under the program, businesses collect food waste like stale bread, chicken bones, coffee grinds and produce along with food soiled paper products and place them in large green bins on the curb for pickup by sanitation workers.

The program is an expansion of the residential food scrap program that launched 2 years ago, and will soon be expanding from collection every other week to weekly.

Food collected from both businesses and residences are composted at the West Contra Costa County Sanitary Landfill, just off Richmond Parkway. The material is eventually converted into a rich compost material, which can be used to enliven plants, instead of buried in landfills, according to Tristan McHenry, recycling coordinator with Richmond Sanitary.

“Recycling food scraps will extend the life of the landfill, it’s environmentally friendly and can feel good doing the right thing,” he said. “So far participation has been really high and we have about 140 business participating.”

Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. By composting food scraps, nutrients are returned to the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue. It’s also a step toward reducing the amount of trash sent to landfills.

A significant step, considering food scraps are the number one material found in landfills. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produce more than 34 million tons of food waste, and only 3 percent of that is composted.

Chris Dikes, the kitchen and culinary arts manager at the Richmond based Bay Area Rescue Mission believes turning food scraps into something that can go back into the soil is good for the community.

“It’s pretty beneficial for us because it gives us extra space in our dumpster, and at the same time we’re giving back to mother earth and not just throwing stuff in the landfill,” Dikes said.

No ‘Executive Action’ for Environmental Migrants

SAN FRANCISCO – As government officials and climate experts from around the world meet this week in Lima, Peru for a U.N. climate conference, tens of thousands worldwide have already been displaced by the effects of climate change.

Some have remained within their country of origin, while others have fled across borders or even oceans. Experts on global migration patterns warn that while the number of cross-border “environmental migrants” is certain to grow, there remains little to no legal framework for absorbing them.

“For those displaced across borders, there is nothing beyond general immigration and human rights law,” explained Elizabeth Ferris, director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement.

Her group is currently working with the UNHCR and Georgetown University to “develop guidance for governments on how to plan relocations made necessary by the effects of climate change.”

Ferris said that for the millions of internally displaced – those who have been forced from their homes but remain in their country of origin – there are international agreements in place, including the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, that while non-binding do provide some measure of predictable support.

Data show that in 2010-2011, there were some 42 million internally displaced people in Asia alone, the majority victims of natural disasters including storms, droughts, and sea rise.

But for cross-border migration driven by climate-related disasters, the legal landscape remains far murkier. Such migrants do not fall under the UN Convention for Refugees, for example, which only extends to those fleeing persecution on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or political affiliation.

To date, humanitarian aid agencies have only gone so far as to agree on the term “environmental migrant.” It is one of a number of terms – including “climate refugee” and “environmentally displaced person” – that have been used going back as far as 1976.

Advocates hope that by highlighting the nexus between climate change and global migration flows, such terms will help to expand existing refugee laws.

And that will be critical, they say.

Even assuming nations can reach agreement on slashing greenhouse emissions by up to 70 percent in 2050 – one of the goals of talks in Lima – forecasts for the number of people displaced by extreme weather events in coming years still hover in the hundreds of millions. The Organization of International Migration, which tracks global migration patterns, puts the number somewhere around 200 million by 2050.

Mexican migration 

Those who study climate-related migration say the majority of environmental migrants are likely to come from poorer countries in the developing world. For that reason, they say, it can be difficult to determine whether someone is a climate refugee, as opposed to an economic migrant fleeing poverty.

That is already the case for the growing number of migrants in the United States from parts of Mexico and Central America.

Leoncio Vasquez is the executive director of the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities (CBDIO) based in Fresno. He said that for decades now Mexican indigenous populations like the Purepechas from Michoacán, or the Mixtecos from Oaxaca, have faced intensified drought and desertification.

“But they can hardly use those words to explain their reasons for coming to California,” he said.

Indigenous Oaxacans, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, are currently the fastest growing farmworker population in California. CBDIO estimates that at least 120,000 have abandoned their land to resettle in areas around San Francisco, the Central Valley and Los Angeles. Many end up working mainly in fruit crops like grapes, apples and strawberries.

Vasquez cited a mix of factors behind their plight, including economic and trade policies like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

“The corn, beans and coffee planted by indigenous farmers can’t compete with subsidized U.S. products,” he said, adding that the Mexican government has stopped providing fertilizer for crops, while the land itself is becoming less and less fertile.

“All of that means one thing for these communities: poverty.”

Temporary Protected Status

One year ago the Philippines was devastated by super-typhoon Haiyan, which claimed more than 6,000 lives and displaced millions more. The ripples of that catastrophe are still being felt – even as another super-typhoon is now threatening the same region.

“[Typhoon Haiyan] affected the livelihood of fishermen, of farmers in the coconut fields … rural infrastructure was wiped away,” noted Lillian Galedo, executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice (FAJ), an Oakland-based non-profit that works on behalf of the local Filipino community. She said the Philippines was still in the process of relocating 2 million people affected by the storm.

Just this month FAJ launched a campaign pushing the federal government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to undocumented Filipinos in the United States. Galedo says that would allow them to work legally and send remittances home that could help in reconstruction efforts.

TPS is granted to individuals from countries unprepared for the return of nationals due to temporary conditions resulting from war, epidemics or a natural disaster. In the 1990s thousands of Central Americans already in the United States received TPS in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch and ongoing civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Their status is set to expire next year.

Galedo said many in her community were hopeful that President Obama would extend TPS to undocumented Filipinos as part of his executive action announced two weeks earlier, which he did not do.

“We were very disappointed,” she said.

Mari Rose Taruc is an organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, which is helping to fund the FAJ campaign. Filipinos need better jobs and to be protected from deportation,” she stressed. “Sending [them] back to typhoon ravaged areas is not the answer.”

Transformation on the Richmond Greenway

Story, Malcolm Marshall | Photos, David Meza

It was a warm fall day, with temperatures near 70 degrees, when Iron Triangle residents and community members gathered to celebrate the grand opening of Harbour 8, Richmond’s newest park, designed and built by local residents.

“It takes a village to build a park,” said Toody Maher, executive director of Pogo Park, a local non-profit that renovates parks in Richmond, as she spoke to the crowd on the Nov. 7 park opening. One by one, she acknowledged the many residents, workers and financial supporters that contributed to the project.
Over the last nine months, residents have worked to transform this area of the Richmond Greenway between Harbour Road and 8th St. into a usable, kid-friendly green space.

The park was made possible thanks to an investment from The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit that creates parks and protects land for people. Pogo Park secured a $150,000 Rapid Park Activation grant from the trust with the goal of renovating this public outdoor space on the greenway and bringing it to life.

“The Trust for Public Land was really fascinated by our community engagement process for Elm Playlot,” Maher said of Pogo Park’s earlier project at 8th and Elm St. Pogo Park and the Richmond Police Department recently won the 2014 MetLife Foundation Community Police Partnership Award for their work transforming Elm Playlot into a safe, vibrant and usable community playground. “So many parks in inner city neighborhoods fail. It doesn’t matter how much money you put in them, you build a playground and the moment people leave its gets attacked and destroyed.”

Gompers High School had a spot on the greenway known as Gompers’ Guerilla Garden that it started in 2010. Students painted a mural that was subsequently painted over by Code Enforcement, who said it was graffiti. The controversy and student protest led a to a revision of Richmond city code to prohibit mural removal on private property without the property owner’s consent. “That started it all and then people started coming out and doing murals,” said Gretchen Borg, Urban Ecology teacher at Gompers High School, of the beginnings of transformation at what is now Harbour 8 Park.

Borg said Maher approached her last year about partnering with Gompers to create a playground surrounded by planter boxes and trees so that people could get fruits and vegetables and the kids would be safe. “And Toody made it happen, lickity split,” Borg said.

Maher said this was The Trust of Public Land’s first project in the Bay Area.

“This is the kind of partnership that is putting Richmond on the map,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. “This partnership of people coming together to own public space as our own.”

“Children will be able to enjoy this beautiful sand box and explore their creative possibilities,” she said. “Keeping public space for the public in Richmond is all part of showcasing that we’re a city that values the importance community leading the way.”

“Today we’re celebrating community members building their own park, and being involved with this whole process,” said Richard Muro, a Richmond resident who served as the project manager at Harbour 8, as well as part of the mural team that painted the new mural along the greenway.

Maher said many residents living close by as well as businesses in the area also contributed to help further the vision of Harbour 8.

“It’s truly a powerful place,” said Maher. “Harbour 8 park is within blocks from five schools. When kids are done with school what we want is for them to walk a few blocks to a refuge, a safe green space where they go.”

“Our whole mission for these parks is to foster the development of children and youth, transform lives by transforming public space,” she added.

The effort is not over. There are plans to build 22 raised garden beds and plant over 30 fruit trees, all of which are to be planted by the community.

Those interested in getting involved can contact Pogo Park at 510-215-5500 or contact@pogopark.org.

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Greening North Richmond

Story , Tania Pulido | Photos, David Meza

It was a cold, cloudy day and I was standing outside of the Multicultural Senior Center in Richmond waiting for volunteers and staff to arrive for this year’s “Beautification Project” ahead of the 5th Annual North Richmond Green Festival.

As I waited a burst of rain came down, but by the time the volunteers started to arrive the giant grey clouds hovering over us broke and the sun radiated through.

DSC_0121The community beautification event happened in the hours before the 5th Annual North Richmond Green Festival, on October 25th, at the Athletics Field. The festival began five years ago as a collaboration between community groups, residents and county agencies to raise awareness about the North Richmond Green Campaign and improve the environment and health of the community.

As the Community Engagement Manager for the North Richmond Farm and Beautification Projects for Urban Tilth, my role that day was to lead the planting activity at the senior center. With the help of seniors, youth, children and adults, we sowed over 60 plants—including lettuce, calendula, native flowers, cabbage and collards.

Tommy James, better known as “Coach Tommy,” helped plant with his kids. Coach Tommy was raised in North Richmond and coaches multiple sports for the North Richmond Green Sports Program. He also serves as a mentor to youth and adults in the community, encouraging them to get involved in community service projects.

Coach Tommy has been involved with initiatives to help green North Richmond for the past seven years, and has participated in all five North Richmond Green Festivals. “This event is very important, Coach Tommy told me. “We need to do this every month… this is beautiful and I love it.”

DSC_0034Bienvenida Meza works at the Verde Elementary Garden Program, an Urban Tilth project. Meza has been involved in garden projects for 20 years and lives in North Richmond. That day she was helping and teaching kids how to plant.

After all the beds, borders, and barrels were planted with the donations from Urban Tilth, Annie’s Annuals, and Sunnyside Organics, the senior center volunteers and staff loaded into cars with freshly wrapped gifts for the raffle. We filled our truck with plants and headed to the Athletics Field to join the festivities.

As we arrived at the park, Carla Orozco from Neighborhood House greeted us. Orozco is the main organizer of the event and helped pioneer the festival five years ago. Neighborhood House of North Richmond is a non-profit that addresses neighborhood needs and supports residents in the North Richmond community.

“Because of the high amount of illegal dumping and blight it’s important to connect neighbors to resources and support systems to help them improve their community and health,” said Orozco, who is also a Community Services Coordinator with the North Richmond Green Campaign. The campaign is collaboration between county, city, and community based organizations in North Richmond with the goal to clean up and beautify the community by deploying initiatives that unite residents.

Blanca Sosa, a North Richmond resident and mother of two, brought her children to the festival to ride the ponies and the train, jump in the inflatable castle, enjoy the live music and eat free sandwiches. Sosa said the event provided “lots of useful information” and her favorite booth was Urban Tilth’s—in part because it had free plants.

Also displaying at the festival were Marin Clean Energy, West Contra Costa County Library Resources, Multicultural Senior and Family Center, Neighborhood House, and more. The Contra Costa County Watershed Program brought a small-scale city that showed how pollution affects waterways.

Vaibhay Sutrayer, who works for the Watershed Program, said pollution is “a severe problem” in North Richmond. Like the beautification project and the green festival, he said the solution must start with the people.

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The Power of Being Outside

By Zaira Sierra

For over four years, I’ve worked with Richmond families. I’ve volunteered with Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization assisting undocumented youth with their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications and Building Blocks for Kids where I was part of the Community Engagement and Advocacy Team. Recently, I joined the Youth Enrichment Strategies, Nature to Neighborhoods family.

In the short time I have been at Y.E.S. as a summer camp assistant, I’ve seen the love, support and guidance Y.E.S. provides for this community. I feel families connect to Y.E.S. because they find it shares the same values they do.

Parents want their children to grow up safe, educated and successful. I know this because of the conversations I’ve had with parents whose children attended camp through Y.E.S. They know that summer camp contributes to the growth and development of their children.

Of all the parents I met, one stands out: Rocio Villa.

Villa’s son, Saul attended camp through Y.E.S. last summer. Before he came, Villa said Saul, 11, didn’t want to go. He was hesitant about attending the two week long camp and was nervous about being away from his family for so long.

Right before we were about to leave for camp, Saul came to the Y.E.S. office and said he wanted to go. Faced with the choice of going to camp or being homebound for the summer, he worked up the nerve to be away from his family.

10384298_10203446116926774_2399815331618954666_nThis summer Saul ended up attending two weeks of camp at Hidden Villa in Los Altos. The camp is at an organic farm. It’s a place where kids go to have a farm experience with animals and an organic garden.

When Saul returned to Richmond, tears ran down his face as he hugged his Mom. He said he enjoyed the experience but he was homesick towards the end. He told her how much he missed her and his father.

A week later, Villa called to ask if Saul could return to camp. I was surprised—sure that Saul had experienced enough camp for the summer. Villa said Saul was bored back at home. She said he told her, ‘Mom, by this time at camp we had already hiked and played a lot of games.’

The many camp activities filled his day and now instead of missing home, he missed camp. Villa said Saul missed the fun activities, the structure and the schedule.

Saul’s parents want the best for him and realize how essential it is for him to attend summer camp. At first, all they expected was for him to enjoy himself. Now, they notice how much camp has contributed to building his character. He shares with them what he learned about the outdoors, the natural environment, and they notice his growing independence. He is more independent and puts more effort into doing well at school. He’s also no longer scared of being alone.

Opportunities for youth can be costly and difficult to find. The gift Y.E.S. provides youth is something hard to measure. Skills learned at camp help young people with all aspects of life.

Like Saul, kids are able to develop their communication skills, become independent and grow their appreciation of the outdoors. All of these skills might be taught at school, or by family, but camp has a way of enhancing them.

I have listened and seen how one week of sleep-away camp transforms youth. Stories like Saul’s are proof that Y.E.S. is contributing to the development, education and success of our Richmond youth.

After having such a great experience the first week, and getting used to the busy scheduled, Saul ended up attending another week long camp at Loma Mar where he enjoyed zip lining, archery, climbing wall and swimming.

He said he’s looking forward to next year’s camp too.