I recently had the honor of attending YOKE camp at Camp BaYoCa with 17 of my students from Vine Middle. Although YOKE serves our students every week, there are some things that I walked away from camp knowing for sure. When you are loving kids together at 1 am in the mountains, some things simply get solidified.
First, YOKE has some of the best people I have ever met. The staff is phenomenal, but let’s be honest, you would expect them to be. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their career to middle school students. However, what struck me was their army of college age volunteers, affectionately known as YOKE Folk. Not only do these volunteers spend an hour with our Vine students every week, but over the course of the weekend I saw them love, care for, and serve our students in a manner that went above and beyond. They are so invested that it became difficult to tell who was a volunteer and who was a staff member. For example, during free time on Saturday (read “the one opportunity you had to sleep in a 48-hour span), these college students gave my kids canoe rides until their hearts were giddy with laughter and excitement. And when we were finally done, and had put all the equipment up, one last student came around the corner asking if she could please, please ride. With a big smile, one of the YOKE Folk said, “Absolutely! Grab a life jacket.”
Second, Yoke is consistent. I knew this going into camp. As the person responsible for our after school programming, I will tell you that the most difficult issue, week in and week out, is when a partner texts us the day of and says “I’m sorry, something came up. I can’t make it today.” I’ve never gotten that text from YOKE. They are here. Rain or shine. Gym open or not. Busy week or not. They show up. And while that helps me with planning, it’s even more important to my students. Our students need people who will show up. People who will prioritize their middle school hormones and fluctuating attitudes. People who care enough to move things around so they can be there. This is what YOKE does.
Third, you can tell who they serve. You can tell by how they treat the students. You can tell by how they treat parents. You can tell by how they treat the school staff. You can tell by the conversations after midnight in the cabins. You can tell by the scholarships they gave to make sure our kids got to camp. You can tell by how our students trust them enough to share the hard things that are happening in their lives. And this is no small thing, friends - gaining the trust of a middle schooler. You can tell by how they show up every week. You can tell by how they reach out to kids to build relationships that go beyond the school walls. You can just tell. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” There is no doubt that the people at YOKE serve the God of the Bible and that they love our kids well. We will be forever grateful.