“Youth Institute helps us become new, skilled people—people we are proud of." This is just one of the many positive sentiments shared by teens in the Whatcom Family YMCA’s brand new college- and career-readiness program, Youth Institute. Having been established and operated successfully for 17 years at the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, CA, Youth Institute is now spreading across the country, including to teens in our own Whatcom County community. By targeting at-risk high school students, Youth Institute will create a brighter future for those teens who need us most.

The Whatcom Y’s YI is be divided into two components: Summer Youth Institute and year-round Afterschool Youth Institute.


Summer Youth Institute (SYI)

Everyone who completes the seven-week summer portion of the program can earn up to $500.



  • During an overnight, week-long wilderness retreat, participants will focus on team-building, bonding, cultural diversity training, decision-making, and life sciences. 
  • Youth will be assigned to project teams with which they will remain throughout the summer. 
  • Participants will develop the collaborative and problem-solving skills necessary for projects.
  • Teens will create a family unit among peers and staff mentors.



Each day of the week, Youth Institute exposes students to new locations, opportunities, and people in their community. Thanks to key partnerships with several local organizations, participants gain valuable hands-on experience. The following is an overview of a typical week during the summer portion:


Mondays:  Teens learn about 3D printing, vectoring images, and how to screen print at Bellingham Makerspace.

Tuesdays: Students have access to a large outdoor field, wooded areas, a full kitchen for cooking and nutrition lessons, as well as an abundance of information about free resources and services provided in their communities at the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center in Maple Falls. 

Wednesdays: Participants typically spend Wednesdays outdoors or at the downtown Y, where they work on their video productions and creative writing projects and rock climb indoors. 

Thursdays: Programming takes place at Bellingham Technical College, where a one hour informative lecture, tour, or hands-on experience is provided about BTC’s programs and opportunities. 

Fridays: Depending on the week’s curriculum, teens spend Fridays either at the downtown Y or outside. 

Free lunch is provided every day and often includes a healthy cooking lesson provided by the Roosevelt Community Resource Center. Throughout the week, outdoor activities and field trips are chosen based on the career and creative interests of the students and the goals of the program. This varied schedule keeps kids engaged and challenged, ensuring the program holds their interest and imparts valuable lessons.


Afterschool Youth Institute

Once participants graduate from the summer portion of Youth Institute, Y staff encourages them to continue the program and meet after school twice per month. Here, they will receive help searching for jobs, writing resumes, and can practice interviewing in addition to receiving academic and emotional support. Furthermore, alumni will become eligible for a position as a youth mentor for the next year’s cohort of participants.

Teens who continually participate as a youth mentor will be eligible to receive a $1,000 college scholarship at the end of their senior year of high school.

There is no doubt Youth Institute’s focused approach is likely to be life-changing and have a profound impact on the trajectory of these young peoples' lives. As one participant shared, this new program is already succeeding in engaging kids and keeping them on the right path:


“Not only do I want to learn, but I also want to grow as a person. I have already grown slightly as a person . . . I learned that if I just be myself people will like me. I am usually very shy, but I learned I don’t have to be shy, at least not here . . . I want to learn to control my thoughts and emotions better… to sum it up, I want to learn useful skills. I want to accomplish something with my life, and this program will help me learn skills to do it.”

—2018 Youth Institute participant


For more information, contact Tony Clark,