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YES Academy

Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Youth Employment Series (YES) 2020 Summer Academy Applications Open

Our Youth Employment Series (YES Academy) is happening again this year for working-aged young people. Students take part in interactive learning opportunities as they participate in work-based learning experiences. They’ll meet life-long friends, mentors and supportive LightHouse staff. They will also have the opportunity to go to one of the biggest blindness conventions in the world. Not to mention, gaining skills needed to get hired.

Apply for the summer 2020 YES Academy

This transformative academy could not happen without the support of mentors and work-experience host organizations. If you or someone you know would be interested in serving in either of these roles, please contact Ann Wai-Yee Kwong, Transition Program Specialist, at youth@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7328.

Reflections from the YES Academy Class of 2019

Reflections from the YES Academy Class of 2019

Each year, LightHouse offers an intensive summer program for youth ages 16-24, which includes time spent away from home. The Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy is a four-week immersive experience held at LightHouse Headquarters in San Francisco to gain first-hand knowledge about building confidence, being a “team player,” identifying strengths and interests, and finding direction through interactive work-based learning experiences designed to develop job-readiness skills.

In June, this year’s group tackled a blindness skills boot camp, met with blind mentors, visited college campuses, attended a blindness convention and completed work experience, which they traveled to independently.

Here are reflections from a few of the students from the YES Academy Class of 2019:

Jenn, who interned at the Exploratorium, a science museum, explained, “I got to oversee prototypes for a biology exhibit. As a Molecular Biology major, this was absolutely perfect! I got so excited reviewing the 3D models of cheek cells and giving my recommendations. The exhibit designer, Denise, was so enthusiastic and I loved engaging in discussion with her. We were really trying to take biological concepts and make them physical, tangible objects for the public to understand and interact with. The new exhibit will be displayed in October and will represent how cells ‘fit’ together to form tissues via a puzzle visitors must put together using the 3D printed models.”

Matt discussed the impact YES Academy mentors had on him. “After breakfast every morning, we had a “mentor spotlight.” These spotlights were my favorite aspect of the Summer Academy. I enjoyed how the mentors explained their stories about going blind, and also being successful. I learned extremely valuable information on individuals who have become blind later in life, which I can apply directly to my own life.”

Nikki talked about the independence he got to experience. “This was my first time doing the YES Academy. This summer, I decided to take the jump and sign up. I was really looking forward to the living skills component. My favorite thing over the last four weeks has been the amount of responsibility and the room to grow that you receive. You’re responsible for going to your work location on your own, without assistance. You’re responsible for buying your own food to make lunches. You’re responsible for reporting to your employers on time, in a professional manner and you’re responsible for completing all the assignments that your employer gives you. I had never traveled on my own before. There was true independence in this program.”

For more information about Youth programs at LightHouse visit the Youth Programs page or email youth@lighthouse-sf.org.

Photos: Meet the YES Academy class of 2018

Photos: Meet the YES Academy class of 2018

On Saturday, July 21, students gathered to celebrate their graduation from the Youth Employment Series (YES) Academy, LightHouse’s employment readiness program. Students ages 16 to 24 attended the month-long immersive program, which aims to build confidence through learning first-hand knowledge, collaborating, identifying strengths and interests and gaining a sense of direction through interactive work-based experiences.

Students organized, prepared and served a three-course dinner for the occasion. The graduates looked sharp in semi-formal attire that they selected and styled in conjunction with a professional attire seminar and a group outing to Macy’s.

Jose serves pasta to a table of guests
Jose serves freshly cooked pasta with meatballs to a table of guests
Kayla, her mother and a friend enjoying dinner seated at the table
Kayla, her mother and a friend enjoy salad and appetizers

Meet YES Academy 2018

This year’s YES Academy students each had their own immersive job experience in the community, commuting to and from work while staying in the residential facilities at the LightHouse’s downtown San Francisco headquarters. We caught up with them at the YES family banquet this weekend. Their names are listed alongside the company that they worked at this summer, along with quotes from each student about their experience.

Portrait of Kyle
Portrait of Kyle

Kyle – Center for Independent Living

“I did some inventorying of random assistive technology tools that they had. I also helped administer a presentation at senior retirement housing, where we showed off some assistive technology tools that might be able to help them.”

Portrait of Jose
Portrait of Jose

Jose – LightHouse Sirkin Center

“You need to manage your time, [otherwise] stuff starts to pile up.”

Portrait of Andy
Portrait of Andy

Andy – LightHouse Sirkin Center

“I packaged toilet paper to send off to war-torn countries. That was a very good experience.”

Portrait of Erick
Portrait of Erick

Erick – LightHouse Sirkin Center

“I actually had to do different stuff including reworking, sorting items, and then I had to do some machinery work.”

Portrait of Santiago
Portrait of Santiago

Santiago – Call of the Sea

“I went through the entire website catalog, all of the pages, and I looked at what was accessible, what was not accessible, what was somewhat accessible and needed to be improved. I wrote a business report with the details as to what needed to be improved and what the best way would be to improve it.”

Portrait of Steven
Portrait of Steven

Steven – Call of the Sea

“Me and my partner Santiago just worked on business reports, analyzing the company’s website and seeing how we can make it more accessible and what next steps the company needs to do to make it possible for blind or visually impaired people to access their website easier.”

Portrait of Kayla
Portrait of Kayla

Kayla  Roxie Theater

“It’s motivated me to send my resume and apply for other jobs.”

Portrait of Richard
Portrait of Richard

Richard – Roxie Theater

“I worked at the cash register. I wasn’t good at it but I kept at it, and I got better, and now it’s not a weakness anymore.”

 Looking for more information or to get involved in LightHouse Youth programs? Email youth@lighthouse-sf.org


YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

YES Academy Week One: Cane skills, cooking and mock interviews

It’s been a lively week at LightHouse headquarters with our three-week Summer Youth Employment Series (YES) underway. The 10th and 11th floors have been warm with the chatter of blind and visually impaired youth attending four classes a day including orientation & mobility, technology, living skills and job readiness trainings.

Many of the students at YES Academy are getting their first introductions to life skills like using a white cane, cooking, doing laundry, interviewing for jobs and volunteering. But it isn’t all work and no play. They also explored the city of San Francisco, including a ghost tour of Chinatown and a scavenger hunt at Fisherman’s Wharf.

This week they’re headed to camp and kayak in Tomales Bay, and then they’re off to Enchanted Hills Camp to spend a few days breathing the fresh air and learning the fundamentals of woodworking with blind woodworker George Wurtzel. The final week, a select group will attend the National Federation of the Blind Convention in Orlando, Florida. Here, students will meet thousands of blind role models from across the country, network with the National Association of Blind Students, peruse the aisles of the exhibition hall, participate in a nation-wide accessible job-fair and attend informative seminars.

“When we picked up the students at the airport not a single one of them was using a cane,” says Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump when we asked him about the most gratifying aspect of leading the program. “Now many of them feel confident to use their canes. It’s an important landmark for them to be comfortable with themselves and be able to identify as blind to allow the public to understand their needs.”

Romesha Laird is one of the YES students who started off the week having never used a cane before. She’s quickly taken to the mobility training and has found it an incredibly useful tool as she goes through this busy week of fun and self discovery.

“I’m just learning to use a cane,” she says. “I used to trip a lot and the cane makes me feel more confident. After this week, I feel a lot more motivated to use my cane when I’m walking around.”

Romesha is a high school student from San Bernardino, and when she’s not learning to making quick biscuits in the teaching kitchen or learning skills that will help her toward her goal of attending a four year college, she’s an avid cheerleader.

This week she discovered a mentor in YES Academy Counselor Danielle Fernandez.

“I really look up to Danielle,” she says. “She taught me a lot and showed me around. She also has the same condition as me, so we relate and understand each other.”

Romesha has already made up her mind that she’ll be headed back to YES next year.

“I am going to come back next year to learn more and get more experience and visit everyone at the LightHouse,” she says smiling.

Here are a few photos of Romesha practicing mobility in downtown San Francisco and volunteering to braille business cards in the MAD Lab.

Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha smiles as she walks down Market Street with her white cane.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.
Romesha helps emboss business cards with fellow YES Academy students in one of the LightHouse volunteer rooms.

Stay posted for more YES Academy updates in the coming weeks!

October Youth Employment Series (YES) Workshop

October Youth Employment Series (YES) Workshop

Photo: YES Academy students raise their arms in happy unison while seated in a MUNI F-Line heritage streetcar.

Would you like to be a YES Protégé?
We are currently seeking protégés for the Youth Employment Series (YES). Protégés will benefit from vocational and blindness skills training, meaningful work and volunteer opportunities, as well as career-specific mentorships with the working blind. This informative monthly series will provide transition-aged youth who are blind or have low vision with vital skills that will help them become more successful as they pursue their academic and employment dreams.

The October YES workshop is Making Advocacy Awesome!
Saturday, October 8, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Where: the new LightHouse Building, 1155 Market St., 10th Floor, San Francisco, 94103.
Who:  Candidates must  be transition aged students ages 14 to 26 who are blind or have low vision. They must be eligible for transitional rehabilitation services, deemed legally blind by a physician or accredited agency, and able to fulfill the training and work required by the program.

Is There a Cost to Attend the YES Workshops?
The cost to attend one of the LightHouse Youth Employment Series workshops is $175 per day-long workshop. In addition to the day’s activities and curriculum, students will receive a light breakfast, lunch and refreshments throughout the day. Department of Rehabilitation authorizations or other payment source must be secured before students will be eligible to participate.

If you have any questions or wish to apply, please contact Youth Services Coordinator Richie Flores at rflores@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7328.

Topics that will be discussed in October include but are not limited to:

  • Instruction in self-advocacy, individual rights, self-determination skills, and the informed consent process, as well as peer mentoring
  • Learn about accommodations available to college students and those entering the workforce
  • Acquire and use blindness skills that will enrich life and help achieve ones goals, be more confident and learn how to advocate needs
  • Learn how to smoothly navigate through any system as a student transitioning into college from high school or from college to a career
  • Learn strategies that will help student make strong and positive first impressions
  • Learn how to develop, enhance and utilize ones network and relationship with peers and mentors

Additional Scheduled Workshops for Fall

Making Work Exciting
Saturday, November 12, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.



Two-Week YES Academy Takes Blind Kids from San Francisco to Orlando to More Independence

Two-Week YES Academy Takes Blind Kids from San Francisco to Orlando to More Independence

Photo: YES group sit around one of the many tables in the conference hall. LightHouse Youth Coordinator Jamey Gump sits at 9 o’clock, then going clockwise around the table: student Kyle Garcia, LightHouse mentor Sergio Lopez, student Billy Lei, LightHouse mentor Danielle Fernandez, students Robin Patche, Kevin Brousard, Christina Parra, Santiago Hernandez and Jacob Obeso.

In July close to a dozen LightHouse Youth attended our inaugural YES Academy – a two-week session for students ages 16 to 24 with the aim of teaching them to be more independent, confident and successful. During the first week of the training, students stayed at the new LightHouse Building in San Francisco. The students experienced full days that included classroom work, assignments and challenges both inside and outside our offices, mixed with time to relax, talk, have fun, compare notes and enjoy making friends and bonding with fellow blind students.

students in teaching kitchen

Photo: YES Academy students gather in our teaching kitchen for lunch.

Throughout the first week students benefited from a robust curriculum including outstanding blind college students as well as blind speakers representing a wide variety of career choices, a tour of the UC Berkeley campus, discussions that focused on becoming more independent and on finding work, including the use of adaptive technology, the importance of organization, best practices for writing resumes and cover letters and how to go on a job interview. They also experienced the excitement and fun of navigating the Bay Area while practicing their mobility skills. They traveled throughout the San Francisco on public transportation, participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, visited Pier 39 and went to the movies (using the recently-launched Disney Movies Anywhere audio-description iPhone app to watch the film Finding Dory.)


students cross golden gate bridge

Photo: Brandishing white canes and dog guides, YES Academy students cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

YES Academy and Fortune Dragon

Photo: Students Christina Parra, Robin Patche and Moe Josefowicz stand next to the colorful Fortune Dragon statue that sits in front of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.

Week two brought the adventure all had been waiting for: the cross-country flight to Orlando, Florida where the group attended the annual National Federation of the Blind (NFB) National Convention. For some it was their very first time on an airplane. LightHouse Youth Services Coordinator Jamey Gump, who supervised the group throughout the two-week period told us, “The kids pretty much were struck by the scale and diversity of the conference right away. Imagine you are maybe the only kid in your school or in your community who is blind. Now imagine the impact of walking into a hall where there are thousands of blind people with their white canes or dog guides. Or attending a huge banquet where pretty much everyone there can relate in one way or another to your life experience? That’s amazingly empowering.”

Serena and Santiago

Photo: LightHouse Evening and Weekend Coordinator Serena Olsen stands with student Santiago Hernandez next to seated audience members in the NFB Conference Hall.

Included in their schedule: exploring the Exhibit Hall where vendors displayed adaptive technology and attending the Conference General Session, the National Association of Blind Students seminar and a youth mixer with kids from all across the country including Arizona and Maryland.

LightHouse Evening and Weekend Coordinator Serena Olsen, who supervised the kids overnight and in Orlando loved seeing changes in the kids, even in such a short period of time. She said, “Overall I saw a growing awareness among the group that it’s “okay” to be blind. I watched them become more comfortable in their own skin as blind people. For some or all of them there’s this idea of leaving home for the first time and that you can’t take your parents with you to, say, college. YES Academy gave them the chance to try new strategies and succeed, or even fail sometimes, in a safe space.”

Student Sarkis (Sako) Meehran Gekchyan summed up the feelings of many who attended, by saying, “The experience I had at The YES Academy was invaluable. I can safely say that no other program for the blind that I have participated in has impacted me so strongly, so positively and so permanently as this one. The lessons I have learned from staying at the LightHouse and the NFB convention have stuck. Doing this program was exactly what I needed. I was able to see blind people who took charge of their lives and were making a positive change not only for themselves but for others. I learned a lot both from my fellow students and the speakers and the mentors. It was the first time I ever felt a deep sense of pride in my blindness, the first time I actually felt like a part of the blind Community. The very people I once tried to distance myself from are now one of my greatest sources of inspiration and most importantly my second family.”

If you have any questions about YES Academy, please contact Youth Services Coordinators Jamey Gump at jgump@lighthouse-sf.org/415-694-7372 or Richie Flores at rflores@lighthouse-sf.org/415-694-7328.

Throughout the year we hold individual LightHouse YES workshops. Our first workshop is on Saturday, September 10.

Read more about YES workshops.