YES program is back on campus offering once a week in-person, hour-long volunteer programs. The program, like all others, was stymied when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The YES program is a student-led community engagement program focused on youth services in and around the HSU campus. The program has been at HSU since 1968 and initiated over 70 community programs. This semester they are offering nine programs for student internships and leadership opportunities.
We spoke to Melea Smith, the YES program coordinator, about the Potowot volunteer gardening program as well as the drop-in knitting program. Both programs are part of the Volunteer Opportunity Program (VOP) and offer short-term in-person volunteering to HSU students. Access is limited in both programs but requires no previous experience. The volunteer gardening program requires a sign up for their Thursday hour and a half work. However, the knitting group is first come first serve. Knitting takes place at noon on Wednesdays and volunteers are asked to come a few minutes early to get situated.
“What I found is that it’s a really sweet way for students who want to connect or volunteer to come together for an hour and do something that’s creative and it’s a big stress reliever,” Smith said.
The VOP Potowot gardening project is a collaborative effort between the YES program and United Indian Health Services (UIHS). This program has helped students at HSU learn various organic gardening techniques as well as give much needed support to run the UIHS three acre garden. This semester, volunteers have helped harvest squash, pick blackberries for jam, weeded and prepped garden beds and helped maintain artichokes.
Jude Marshall, the community nutrition manager at UIHS has said that HSU students are welcome to help with volunteer efforts, while gaining practical experience in the garden.
“When they come in they’re going to get hands-on education on whatever’s needed at the garden,” Marshall said. “Each week it’s something different.”
Jasmine Rafferty, a transfer student to the social work program, has been attending the gardening program since this semester’s start. Rafferty has found a great community within the gardening volunteer program and the YES House.
“I’m honored and grateful to be participating in the program because it’s addressing the needs of our community and students alike so it just brings everybody together,” Rafferty said.
The drop-in knitting program is currently led by student leader Bran Hoyt, an art studio and art education major. Hoyt has been volunteering with YES since spring of 2019 after joining one of YES’s semester-long volunteer programs following their transfer to HSU.
“YES has kind of really been the heart of my HSU experience,” Hoyt said. “It has connected me with other leaders on campus and helped build my own leadership skills.”
Student leadership is a feature of the YES House and empowers students to find leadership roles based around their interests or major.
“Within YES there’s a really beautiful structure of student leadership,” Smith said. “Volunteers fuel the program, program directors help lead those volunteer programs, and then the program consultants help mentor and support student leaders as they learn how to lead their program and other parts of their internship.”
The drop-in knitting program will meet weekly until November 17 with a volunteer limit of 10 people. The Potowot gardening project will end three weeks earlier on October 28 and is limited to 15 student volunteers each session.
Amanda Ramirez-Sebree was a part of the YES program during her time at HSU from 2014 to 2018 and even held the position of governing body co-chair within the program. Ramirez-Sebree credits her time with YES as the inspiration to her current career as a school teacher.
“You get to build relations and get connections with those around you,” Ramirez-Sebree said. “You get to give back to a community that is serving you.”
YES currently has plans for more in-person volunteer opportunities next semester but is still working on the dates and programs that will be offered.