When you look at a large group of just about anything, you’re apt to find a diamond in the rough, a needle in a haystack, or something or someone that stands apart from the rest. So it makes sense that this would ring true within Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Volunteer Program which stands at over 400 individuals strong, wouldn’t it? There are quite a few individuals that stand apart from the rest in this program, and one such gem is 76-year-old Bobby Yates.
Bobby Yates on course with a student
All Texas through and through, Bobby grew up in the suburbs of Houston, left for three years to join the United States Army, and then returned to graduate from the University of Houston. He then started an industrial contracting company in the oil and gas industry with just a buddy and his wife which ultimately grew to over 3,000 employees by the time they sold the company – and subsequently retired – 43 years later. But in the midst of it all, Breckenridge, Colorado and the BOEC became sort of a second home for Bobby and his family.
It all started when his daughter, Brooke, joined the BOEC Internship Program in the summer of 2003. She invited Bobby and the rest of the family up to volunteer for both the winter and summer programs and he became hooked. 17 years later he’s become a staple of the BOEC Volunteer Program, something he finds extremely gratifying.
Bobby poses with a BOEC participant
“I had done a little volunteer work back home for many years,” he says with a Texas twang. “But volunteering with the BOEC was a whole different ball game. It’s a lot more emotional and really moved me a lot. To this day, I’m still moved by it. It’s heartwarming and rewarding.”
In fact, Bobby finds the BOEC experience so rewarding and important that he arranges his schedule around his volunteer shifts. Since he retired three years ago, he has made it his mission to visit all 63 National Parks in the continental United States, a feat he has accomplished while putting 53,000 miles on his travel trailer. But these trips – including the one he has scheduled for Alaska this fall – are put on hold whenever there’s an opportunity to volunteer for the BOEC.
Bobby poses with Brain Injury Alliance group
“BOEC is my number one priority,” he states matter of factly. “I always try to book my travels around mainly the summer programs. I keep asking to do more and more, and they [BOEC staff] keep letting me do more, so I work around the BOEC schedule, so to speak.”
Bobby’s favorite programs are the traumatic brain injury camps where he gets to be with the group 24/7 for the length of the camp. This enables him to experience an extreme sense of bonding with the participants while watching them enjoy the outdoors and everything else the BOEC has to offer … something he finds very satisfying.
“I get satisfaction out of helping somebody else,” he says. “I’ve been privileged in my life to be able to get out and do a lot of outdoor activities and the excitement to help somebody enjoy the same things really, really gets to my heart and I get joy out of it.”
Bobby dressed up as the Pillsbury Dough Boy
Nowhere has that satisfaction shown up more than on one particular rock climbing occasion while volunteering with a camp with the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado (BIAC). Bobby tears up as he recounts the experience of the participant reaching the top of the rock wall and the ensuing screams.
“We thought he got hurt or something bad had just happened,” he recounts. “But, no, he turned around at the top of the wall, smiled and screamed ‘I did it!’ He was just so happy. It’s memories like these that make it all worth it for me.”
Bobby on the ropes course
And these kinds of experiences and memories have made such an impact on Bobby that they have seeped into his everyday life.
“I’m a lot more giving than I used to be because of the BOEC,” he says. “I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty generous person, but I now share more time with people that might need it. I just feel like everybody deserves a little help. Older people, kids, it doesn’t matter. I’m a much more giving person now.”
In fact, when asked to describe the BOEC in three words, it’s no wonder he says “Happy, giving and joyful,” because that is exactly what he is when volunteering with the BOEC. He jokes that he’ll be volunteering with BOEC for the rest of his life, but we wouldn’t put it past him as he still goes on backpacking trips with his daughter and makes frequent excursions on his bicycle.
“I’m 76 years young,” he says. “I want to volunteer until I’m 100. No, but seriously I will be volunteering until I’m 80 to 85 years old. The BOEC is like my second family, it really is.”
We’re proud to have you as part of our family, Bobby, and here’s to many more years to come! You truly are a diamond in the rough.