Young Palo Alto entrepreneurs learn along with their campers

Josh and Noah Yuen are teaching -- and acquiring -- life lessons with their homegrown basketball camp

It started out as a way to make money to pay their way onto club sports teams. Now, Josh and Noah Yuen's FUN-damentals Sports Camp is an annual summer tradition that has taught the Palo Alto High School students life lessons and tightened their bond with neighborhood kids.

The brothers started the camp six years ago when Josh was in seventh grade and Noah in fifth. Now, with Josh a recent graduate and Noah a rising junior at Paly, the camp is still going strong, fostered by the boys' love for sports and camaraderie.

"I was very active as a kid," Josh said. "In my first house when we moved to Palo Alto, we had a hoop in the garage. So I'd spend hours back there. ... I remember playing (at the YMCA) ... it was so much fun to meet friends that way. Since then (my love for sports) has just grown in so many ways."

Josh and Noah don't have a schedule for the camp, prioritizing freedom and creativity over the hour-by-hour agendas of other sports camps. For basketball, they mix the basic drills -- shooting, passing and dribbling -- with scrimmages and games such as "knockout" and "money in the bank."

But the camp, which runs during afternoons the week of July 18, is not limited to just basketball.

"The camp is pretty (much) free for the campers to do anything they want, whether it's baseball, basketball, even soccer," Noah said. "It's about keeping them active during the summer. That was a big reason we did it."

The Yuens home on Hilbar Lane serves as the base. The backyard is a hub for sports and other outdoor games, but sometimes the camp will venture to nearby Duveneck Elementary School, which has more room for activities such as baseball.

"This is where all the magic happens," Josh said, pointing out the screened window at a rather nondescript backyard. There are two basketball hoops, a soccer net and a play structure.

Promotion of the camp doesn't go beyond posting fliers at school and sending messages to the neighborhood email list. This year, even the cost of the camp is donation-based. It's far from the flashy summer basketball camps held by colleges or professional teams, but that doesn't matter. This is a homegrown, grassroots camp, meant to build fitness and -- more importantly -- friendship.

"It's an open session," Josh said. "It's about spending time in the summer with your friends, remaining active and learning a few things along the way as well."

It's also about the kids learning to try new things, to make their own choices.

"We realized after a while, a lot of these kids -- who are still in elementary school -- they learn better, and they have more fun when they have their own choice," Josh said. "Once they have their own choice, we'll direct them from there."

This approach has resulted in diverse activities taking place that aren't even sports-related, ranging from tie-dyeing shirts to decorating picture frames. One year, the campers wrote letters to their favorite athletes, and one even received a response from the baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez.

Managing 10 to 12 elementary-age kids, though, can be a challenge, the brothers said. Early on, Josh would get frustrated when the campers didn't listen and "did their own thing."

"Every year since then, I've understood them a little bit more, been able to enjoy a little bit more," Josh said. "So being able to learn more about myself in that way, which I never could have thought of in the beginning, was definitely rewarding."

Noah added, "We've gotten more experience with our skills and being able to communicate with the kids."

The firsthand lesson in crisis management is something the boys' mother, Kerei, appreciates.

"When (Josh and Noah) started, they would turn to me whenever they had a question," she recalled. "They would say, 'Mom, (the campers) aren't listening to me,' and I'd say, 'Great, what do you do about that?'"

What they did was use patience to let campers try new things, grasp new concepts and learn from their mistakes, Josh explained.

"If you're going to teach a kid how to do something, especially at a young age, being able to just be more patient with them and allow them to try and then fail and help them get back up is a good experience," he said.

Kerei noted how she has been more hands-off as the years have gone by, no longer needing to look over the boys' daily plans.

"I've seen them grow along with their camp," she said.

Elizabeth Hewitt -- whose two boys, Watson and Oakley, will be attending the camp for the third consecutive year -- said they "absolutely love it."

"It's a wonderful mix of sports, arts and crafts put on by wonderful role models, and it's one of the highlights of my boys' summer," Hewitt said.

Watson, 10, added, "It's awesome. You get to make tie-dye shirts."

When asked about their favorite memories from six years of camp, both brothers talked about seeing campers who were on the quieter side begin to open up and feel more confident.

It epitomizes the journey the boys have taken as well, from middle schoolers starting a basketball camp in their backyard to confident leaders who are attempting to nurture and develop community youth.

With Josh heading off to University of California, Berkeley, in the fall, the future of the camp beyond this year remains in question, though Kerei hopes Noah and two younger brothers can take the reins.

For now, the focus is on this summer.

Josh's advice to others is similar to the attitude he and Noah strive to instill in their campers: Don't be afraid to try something new.

"I know a lot of kids may be interested in coaching or starting their own camps because it is an intriguing idea," said Josh. "Try it out, and you may love it."


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11 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 15, 2016 at 10:23 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by nereader
a resident of Escondido School
on Jul 17, 2016 at 2:05 pm

I might go next year.

7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 19, 2016 at 9:18 am

Great story of kids creating something positive in the community.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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