We Are Co-ops: How The YES is Responding to COVID-19

Welcome to our newest series We Are Co-ops in which we profile our diverse membership and demonstrate the innovation the flexible co-op model supports and enables! This week we are featuring The YES and sharing their inspiring live story of dealing with COVID-19, keeping their members and community at the centre of all they do, and how they pivoted to continue serving their community during a global crisis.


The last couple of weeks have seen sweeping changes in our work and personal lives as we individually and collectively respond to the threat of a global pandemic. Co-ops and co-operative organizations are in a unique position of being able to pivot, with creativity and flexibility to serve their members in this time of need.


My name is Chelsea Lake and I’m the executive director of The Youth Excellence Society which many of you know as The YES Camp or Camp Rainbow. At The YES we’re looking at the real possibility that all of our summer camps, and most definitely all of our spring school programs will be cancelled. If so, it would be the first summer since 1975 with no camps, and for me personally, the first summer since 1999 without camps operating as a guiding beacon in my life.

The YES, like so many other organizations, is currently in the midst of a massive shift. As we started to understand the magnitude of this global crisis, and began to digest the ramifications it would have on each of us, the economy, and our ability to gather, we started to ask ourselves, what should we do? As co-operators, this question inevitably becomes, how can we best serve our members, or our community?


At The YES, our community consists of 14-18 year-olds across the province, as well as the many alumni who have participated in our program over the years. As youth programmers we know that teens are an especially vulnerable population. 38% of the teens who come to The YES camps self-report as struggling with depression and anxiety, and 35% come from homes that struggle to make ends meet. We know that many teens rely on their schools or communities to meet their needs whether physiological, social, or emotional. So, at The YES we’re asking ourselves, how can we best serve teenagers right now? How can we reach youth who are lonely, isolated or in high-risk situations? How can we help prevent substance abuse, self-harm and mental illness during this global crisis?


“So, at The YES we’re asking ourselves, how can we best serve teenagers right now? How can we reach youth who are lonely, isolated or in high-risk situations? How can we help prevent substance abuse, self-harm and mental illness during this global crisis?”

Chelsea Lake, Executive Director of The YES


At The YES our mission is to create inclusive communities where all youth thrive. Along with our mission, we’re returning to our core values to guide our response during this pandemic. It’s important that we stay relevant and continue to serve our participants at a time when they need us most. Here are a few ways that The YES is currently taking action to reach out to teens across BC:


1. Care Package: The Podcast

This one-hour weekly (sometimes twice weekly) podcast includes interviews with YES volunteers and staff members with focused segments on mental wellness, acts of kindness, mindfulness, and education. It also includes segments meant to offer fun and humorous relief from the stress and anxiety of the current global pandemic. Our first episode aired March 25th, and we’ve had 150 downloads so far. You can find it wherever you listen to podcasts, or on our website at www.theyes.ca/blog.



2. Social Media Care and Connection Challenges:

The YES is using its social media platforms to challenge teens to get creative about showing care and connection across distances.

Last week we started our first challenge with an activity we run at our summer camps. The “Secret Friend” challenge paired 57 YES participants with secret friends over Instagram. Their mission was to provide their SF with a message of care, connection or affirmation within 24 hours of having received their name. The YES then shared these messages that included stop-motion animations, song playlists, original artwork, poetry, songs, etc with the recipients. Participants wrote The YES to let us know that these mini-projects were the highlight of many of their weeks.

One example of a project submitted for the Secret Friend challenge is here.


We are planning on continuing these challenges to engage youth in building connections across distance, focusing on activities that build participants’ self-worth, mental wellness, empathy for others, social-emotional learning, and grit.


3. The YES Volunteer Support Network

The YES will be reaching out to participants from the last two summers (over 450 youth) to set up a series of phone and virtual meetings with teams of two YES volunteers. We are focused on trying to reach the most isolated and vulnerable youth in our network and believe that in order to do so, we need to target some youth who will not engage in the other strategies The YES is employing.


4. Virtual Educational Sessions

At The YES we teach life-skills workshop, and we run sessions like Relaxations: 30 minute mindfulness activities, Thought of the Day: insights and wisdom from our staff and volunteers, and many others. We’re currently working to produce these sessions virtually to offer out to youth across our networks.


This is certainly a difficult time, and I can’t imagine some of the tough circumstances that you and your organizations are finding yourselves in. However, something that I find deeply inspiring at this time is the knowledge that co-operatives are organizations that characteristically emerge out of shared sets of needs, and often out of hardship and adversity.

Whether we think way back to the Rochdale pioneers, and their need to provide their families with proper nutrition, or more recently the auto-parts workers in Argentina that took over their factories to continue having meaningful work and income to support their families, or countless other examples, time after time the co-operative model triumphs in times of shared crisis. I believe in the power of the co-operative sector to respond to this pandemic, and our collective needs with innovation, creativity, care and resilience. At a time when capitalism’s cruel underbelly is exposed, co-operatives are being called on to support our communities wherever and however we can.


Chelsea Lake,
Executive Director
The Youth Excellence Society


Learn more about The YES and the work this amazing youth education co-op is up to on their website.



Interested in being profiled in our “We Are Co-ops” series? Connect with us at either general@bcca.coop or 604-662-3906!