This summer, LightHouse was thrilled to bring back the Youth Employment Services (YES) Summer Academy. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and health and safety protocols, last year we ran the program virtually. This year we were back in person with a slightly re-designed program to accommodate the safety of our students and staff while still keeping the fun, interactive elements and activities we’ve always valued in the academy. Our participants spent this four-week program at Enchanted Hills Camp (EHC) where the spacious and lush grounds allowed for safe, socially distanced outdoor instruction.
YES is a program designed to educate and prepare youth who are blind or have low vision ages 16 to 24 for a successful future, focusing primarily on employment and independent living skills. During the Summer Academy, our participants are given the opportunity to fill their summer with engaging and valuable pre-employment learning experiences, independent living training, employment readiness seminars, mentoring conversations, discussions about self-advocacy in equality and inclusion in the workplace, not to mention all the memorable social activities and building connections with friends and mentors.
The four weeks were broken down into goal-based themes. The first week was “Your Skills, Your Goals Bootcamp.” Week two focused on expanding employment knowledge and networking in the community. YES ended its program with workshops in learning to grow one’s resume and work experience in weeks three and four.
The students documented their experiences throughout these four weeks by writing blogs. First time participant, a young woman with low vision named Tatiana, reflected on her time at the YES Summer Academy.
“I’ve always said and knew I didn’t want to have to rely on my family, friends, and others to help me go on in life and do whatever it is I may need to do, but deep down there was always that worry of what seemed at the time to be an inevitable fact that I’d have no choice and I would need to come to terms with always needing some kind of reliance. However, after going through this program and learning and practicing what I have for the first time in my life, that thought and doubt is no longer there. I have confidence in knowing I will be able to go on in life confidently by myself.
“Not only has the program taught me new skills but it has given me a newly found hope and excitement. I’m not fully blind but I still struggle in places where visual problems are not noticed often. After staying at the camp where everyone is visually impaired it’s made me feel more accepted. I have never realized that the stereotypes used to describe the blind community are the farthest thing from true. I’ve been inspired and cannot wait to return to Enchanted Hills Camp and the YES Academy where I have learned that my vision does not define me.”
Another YES participant, Heaven, had the opportunity to gain work experience by working as Recreation Assistant at the Enchanted Hills Teen Camp session that was going on simultaneously with YES in the last weeks of the program.
“The first few days of my work experience as the Recreation Assistant, I observed how the Area Leader taught the campers what to do, and after that I led some of the activities. I learned more about Archery, and a new sport known as Disc Golf. I’ve learned many things through working this job, mainly how to talk to a large crowd of people. I met a lot of the campers and staff and learned about them as well. It is a very interactive job, which I like because it helps me be better at talking with other people. This job gave me skills I will be able to use in the future. It tested my communication skills, and ability to problem solve. It also tested my memorization skills, because I had to memorize people’s names and what order they were in for certain recreational activities. The experience was a good one, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to work this job. I love sports and now I have a way to teach them to other blind people, and a way to explain them if I ever need to. It was a valuable experience.”
YES offers different programs and workshops year-round. If you are or if you know any blind and low vision youth ages 16 to 24 who are interested in preparing for their future, you can contact Youth Programs Assistant, Daisy Soto, at DSoto@lighthouse-sf.org, or by calling 415-694-7328. LightHouse youth activities are not just summer only, but every month, all year long. Visit our Youth Programs department page on our website or check out our online calendar for upcoming events and programs.