Celebrating Our 500th Youth Intern


How our work/life program near Yosemite is helping young adults prepare for their futures

By Lee Zimmerman

Rush Creek Lodge Groundbreaking (Kim Carroll)Family Fun in the Guest Lounge (Kim Carroll)Rush Creek Shuffleboard (Kim Carroll)S'mores (Kim Carroll)Rush Creek Lodge Breakfast (Kim Carroll)As we celebrate the recent arrival of our 500th intern into our behind-the scenes youth employment program, I find myself reflecting on our 20+ year journey pioneering social purpose enterprise and designing a business from scratch to be a force for good.

As co-owner of Evergreen Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge & Spa, two family-oriented resorts at Yosemite National Park, I live for the moments that bring people together. That’s precisely why, on a recent rainy Tuesday, I was happy to see guests in full vacation mode.

At Rush Creek, the newer of our lodges, families were snuggled together on tufted leather couches, sipping on warm apple cider while they collaborated on an art project with recycled materials. In the game room, a dad and his daughter were locked in a fierce shuffleboard competition with two new friends from another country. In the tavern, old friends were catching up over pints of craft beer—laughing, reminiscing, promising to meet up again here next year.

The scene reflected why we built Rush Creek and Evergreen – to create destinations within a destination that offer as much family-friendly fun at the lodges as can be had exploring Yosemite.

While guests at Rush Creek and Evergreen Lodge are enjoying a rich and memorable experience with us, behind the scenes, our onsite Youth Employment Program is offering a different type of rich and memorable experience to the 50+ high-potential young adults we serve each year.

Back in 2000, we set out to create a business with a built-in, fully self-funded youth employment program and to prove that we could make it sustainable for the long-term.  We are thrilled to say that the model has worked on all fronts, and we hope our efforts inspire others to replicate our model and truly leverage the power of businesses to do good in the world.

Youth Interns at Mono LakeWe work with young, under-resourced adults ages 18-24 who lack the support and guidance available to those of greater means. We focus on enabling successful transitions into adulthood and independence. The research is clear that if young adults don’t get traction at this critical stage of their lives, they often never do, resulting in a lifetime of individual challenges and a high cost to society.

Youth at Yosemite Tunnel ViewThe young adults in our program work as full-time paid seasonal interns. They leave the city and their normal lives behind and come to live and work in the mountains. Not only do they learn a specific trade, they live in a supportive community and enjoy outdoor experiences that challenge, motivate and inspire them as they plan for a successful life ahead.

Youth Whitewater Rafting Stanislaus RiverOur Youth Program maximizes impact through a multi-layered design that includes full-time work & job skills training, life-changing outdoor recreation experiences, group & individualized social service support, living in a supportive community, and matched savings grants. It is this combination of elements that we have refined over the past 20 years that enable us to help change the trajectory of the lives of those we serve.

Humble beginnings

Evergreen Lodge Main Plaza at Dusk (Kim Carroll)Back in 2001 when Brian and I purchased the sleepy, seasonal, undersized Evergreen Lodge, we wanted to expand and transform the place into an iconic tourist destination with a self-sustaining, innovative youth program – an enterprise in service to both our lodging guests and our youth interns.

We partnered with the wonderful, early social enterprise non-profit, Juma Ventures, to help us craft a thoughtful program that could really help disadvantaged SF Bay Area teens and former foster youth get the stability and support needed to transition successfully into adult life.  The former Juma Ventures CEO sits on our board of directors to this day.

We served just 4 youth interns our first year, making mistakes and fine tuning the program while we were small, and building the program into the fabric of our organization. Over the years, we’ve gradually grown our team to 5 onsite social service staff that serve over 50 interns each year at our two lodges.

We were fortunate to partner with a host of forward-thinking investors who saw the value of putting their money to work to simultaneously achieve both financial and social returns. And we designed the investment for the long term so we would not be forced to sell the lodges and risk losing our Youth Program.

BCorp LogoOur innovative enterprise and Youth Program successes generated buzz, and in 2006, B Lab approached and asked us to be among the first companies to become Certified B Corporations, which are for-profit companies certified for their social and environmental performance. In 2007 we were certified along with 81 other companies as founding B Corporations. We’ve proudly been a Certified B Corp ever since, including receiving their ‘Best for the World’ honor in 2015. We’ve excitedly watched the movement grow to thousands of companies, from Ben & Jerry’s to Patagonia to Seventh Generation to Allbirds, all using business as a force for good.

Our Program

Rush Creek General Store Barista (Kim Carroll)Evergreen Lodge Crafts (Kim Carroll)Clouds Rest Youth Intern HikeOur Youth Program provides job skills training immersion with first-hand experience in the areas of retail, food & beverage, recreation, housekeeping, maintenance and front desk. Our youth interns by design make up a fraction of our total staff, with our non-intern team providing operational expertise and stability while serving as role models. And we’ve created a structured employee activities & wellness program to build community and foster connections between all staff members.

Our full-time social service team provides life skills training and one-on-one support to help our interns prepare for life ahead and address anything that is holding them back. Our social service team also exposes our youth interns to life-changing outdoor experiences, from hikes to backpacking to river rafting. For many interns, camping in the California wilderness is the first time they’ve spent the night in a tent. It is transformative, and through the process, trust and connections are developed that enable our effectiveness in working with and supporting interns.

Youth Program Director Matt Dunn and Interns on North Dome HikeOur long-time Youth Program Director, Matt Dunn, notes the program is as much about life as it is about work, commenting, “some interns just make it a few weeks, while some stay for five years, and everyone who attends says their life was positively impacted. Some go on to work in national parks or return home to new jobs or to continue their education, and a few who don’t complete the program may return later for a second chance if they can prove they understand the barriers that interfered with their progress.” Matt notes that the intern’s housing experience onsite is like being in a college dorm, where one prepares for adulthood, learning independence and how to be a positive member of a community.

Matt and his team meet with our young adult interns weekly to learn and practice life skills including communication, resume building, job search, healthy lifestyle, and more. We run them through mock job interviews. We also work to introduce interns to different industries and career paths, providing them with as much background as possible about the work world so they can make informed decisions about where they’d like to go when their time with us is done.

We also connect those in need to mental health services. “It’s not just housing and work, and it’s not just soft skills,” Matt says. “We take a holistic approach to helping these young people prepare for a successful life.”

Youth Program Director Matt Dunn with Intern GraduateFor many participants, their time with us is the first step on the march toward financial independence. Given this, a key aspect of our Youth Program is emphasis on financial literacy.

We achieve this in two ways. First, Matt and his team meet with our interns weekly to help educate them about financial issues from banking to budgeting. We have them open savings accounts, and we teach them how to plan for the future.  We require them to save part of each paycheck during their time with us, modeling important long-term behavior and giving them financial security when they transition from the lodges.

We create an additional savings incentive through our investor-funded Stepping Stone grant program. Our Stepping Stone grants are matched savings programs that provide up to $1,000 for graduating interns, giving an additional $1 for every $2 interns save.  In the past few years, our interns have received 100 grants for nearly $100,000. We have recently introduced a similar Post-Graduate Grant Program to provide additional support to intern graduates who demonstrate continued progress in pursuing their post-lodge goals. We and our investors replenish the grant pool each year by directing a portion of our distributions into it, so the program is self-sustaining.

In 2023 alone, our 50 interns earned over $400,000 and saved over $90,000, before the additional $30,000 they received in matching Stepping Stone grants. Since program inception, our interns have earned over $3.5 million in wages and saved over $700,000 dollars. That’s an impressive savings rate of 20% of their gross wages. Through this experience, interns have learned that if they are financially disciplined, even on a modest income they can build meaningful assets and provide themselves a cushion to stay stable during life’s transitions.

Our Interns

Youth Intern Roy on the TractorYouth Intern Environmental ProjectWhile our interns are generally grateful in the moment for the time they spend as part of our Youth Program, their appreciation builds over time as they gain perspective on their experience and how it helped build momentum in their lives and expand their vision of life’s possibilities.

Roy Edwards, for instance, joined the team as an intern in our Facilities Department in 2004, just a few months after his mother died. He was one of the first four interns to ever graduate. Roy came to Evergreen Lodge via Job Corps with no experience and an eagerness to learn; we hired him, then trained him to perform an important role at the lodge.

“I didn’t have any expectations; I was ready to start something new because I knew I had to get my life together,” Roy said, looking back. “I was ready for anything to take care of myself and whatever else moving forward.”

Today, Roy manages an apartment complex in Oakland, California and works part time for Kaiser Permanente. He said the Youth Program provided him with the foundational skills to get there.

“The structure I learned [at Evergreen] really built everything; when I came back I went straight to work,” he said. “Being up there taught me so much. That program was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Youth Program Graduate Neta JohnsonElneta “Neta” Johnson, who is from Berkeley, interned at age 21 in 2014. She said she was a “city girl” at the time, and noted that the internship opened her horizons.

“I never expected anything like this,” she told the Union-Democrat in 2022. “I was never exposed to camping [or] canoeing.”

Neta still works at Evergreen and Rush Creek—now as a full-time employee. Currently, she is the banquet captain in charge of weddings and events. She also helped develop the first lodge-run recycling program for the business, since such services aren’t available in our remote area. Johnson said she feels “fortunate and grateful” to have developed “lifelong friendships” in the community.

This video offers heartfelt perspective from one of our graduates:

Meet Ashley, the 500th graduate of our Youth Program.

Looking Ahead

Firefall Ranch Event Hall Exterior RenderingFirefall Ranch Restaurant and Tavern Exterior RenderingWe are excited to once again expand our Youth Program next summer as we begin managing our third property, the brand new, gorgeous Firefall Ranch (https://www.firefallranch.com/) located on Highway 120 between Groveland and Rush Creek Lodge.

We also look forward to inspiring and working with others across industries to build social impact into their businesses and leverage the potential of our social enterprise model.

Our work is more rewarding as a result of our foundational youth social program, and our guests can feel good knowing that, by staying with us, they are helping young people to gain experience and skills that they would not otherwise have access to and build momentum toward successful lives.

You can learn more about our Youth Program Social Mission and Environmental initiatives here: https://www.evergreenlodge.com/social-mission/

Spa & Wellness Retreats Near Yosemite National Park

Over and over again, guests at Rush Creek Lodge & Spa have expressed to our staff how important wellness and self-care are becoming in their lives. From better eating and workout regimens to meditation routines and self-care habits, the need for all-inclusive wellness retreats is steadily increasing.

Research continues to accumulate that proves consumers consider wellness to be a top priority in their lives, but the definition of wellness is changing. This study explains how the wellness category has expanded beyond diet and exercise to include sleep, appearance and mindfulness. Combining this with the guidance of physicians, consumers are now able to improve their overall health and wellness using the power of the great outdoors. One doctor explains that spending time outdoors has the potential to reduce mental health issues, boost Vitamin D intake, improve vision and better brain function. Visitors to Yosemite National Park now have the opportunity to experience each of these aspects of healing with a fulfilling wellness vacation at Rush Creek Lodge & Spa.

Heated Lounge Relaxation

Wellness Retreats In California

California has been at the forefront of the wellness boom, housing more than 2,600 health and wellness spas. Part of the reason for this is California’s natural beauty and unique landscapes. From white-sand beaches to snow-capped mountains, California offers a little bit of everything allowing visitors to connect with nature and experience a healing vacation away from the busy city life.

One of the best wellness retreats in California is found at Rush Creek Lodge & Spa, located less than two miles from Yosemite National Park. This top Yosemite resort boasts an on-site spa, three hiking and biking trails around the resort, yoga and boga classes for all ages and so much more!

Yosemite Resort & Spa

As the newest resort to the Yosemite area in more than 25 years, Rush Creek Lodge & Spa has quickly become a repeat destination among locals and visitors alike. From its nature-inspired spa to the naturalist-led hikes in Yosemite National Park, the resort’s extensive list of wellness and healing amenities is sure to check every box on your list.

In an effort to offer an all-inclusive wellness retreat, Rush Creek is now offering a health & wellness journey complete with picturesque Yosemite lodging, daily itineraries, hand-picked spa treatments and more. Each guest has the flexibility to customize their wellness journey depending on stress level, fitness abilities and personal preferences.

Simply select your travel dates and our wellness staff will aid you in creating your ideal spa and wellness retreat at our top Yosemite resort.

Rush Creek Lodge Villa Deck Cheers (Kim Carroll)

Healing Vacation & Relaxation Retreat

The Wellness Program staff at Rush Creek Lodge & Spa strives to create a unique experience for each quest. By combining their local’s knowledge and expertise with your wellness needs and wants, Rush Creek will create a personalized itinerary for you filled with healing and relaxation from start to finish.

Peruse the list of amenities below that are available for your next spa and wellness retreat at Rush Creek:

Rush Creek Spa

The brand new indoor/outdoor spa at Rush Creek Lodge is filled with extraordinary elements inspired by the natural beauty and power of Yosemite. Offers skin care and massage treatments, an aromatherapy steam room, Himalayan salt block sauna, cool mist shower, sensory room and much more!

Yoga & Boga Classes

Enjoy a place of calm against the backdrop of mountain and sunset views at Rush Creek’s yoga and boga classes. Our certified instructors will lead you in classes centered on healing both mind and body. All skill levels are welcome; mats and boards are provided.

Rush Creek Vista Point Trail (Matthew F.)

Hiking & Biking Trails

Located in the resort’s surrounding Stanislaus National Forest, three hiking and biking trails are available to guests and visitors of Rush Creek Lodge. Each trail provides the opportunity to experience the beautiful views of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.

Did you know Rush Creek’s Adventure Trail is part of a larger trail?
Tuolumne County is proud to announce the coming of a county-wide bike trail system. The trails have been created by both community volunteers and city-paid workers to create an earth-friendly trail through the county. Rush Creek’s Adventure Trail will soon become a small branch of this much larger community mountain bike trail system.

Yosemite National Park Tours

Rush Creek offers numerous guided tours through Yosemite’s mountains and valleys. Each hike is led by an experienced local guide providing an insider’s look at the national park. We recommend the Wonders of Yosemite Hike & Tour, Yosemite Valley Explorer and Stagecoach Road Naturalist Hike.

Guests are always welcome to explore on their own. Make use of the hiking materials at the Recreation Desk and inquire with staff about any questions you may have. Find a list of nearby trails online and easily download an info sheet about each.

Do you know the difference between a guided hike and a naturalist hike?
Naturalist hikes are led by certified guides with a nature-related college degree. These guides are well-versed in flora, fauna and wildlife, possess first aid certification and know the history and science of the area. Rush Creek’s naturalist guides also boast the uncanny ability to provide an interesting experience for all age levels. Find a full list of Yosemite guided hikes and tours.

Yosemite Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Picnic (Kim Carroll)

More Wellness Amenities at Rush Creek

Rush Creek offers an idealistic location for a spa and wellness retreat. Absolutely everyone from first-timers to experienced yogis and accomplished rock climbers is invited to partake in our healing and wellness journey. By combining the key elements of healing, relaxation and rejuvenation with as much, or as little, professional guidance as you prefer, Rush Creek is ready to provide you with all the tools you need to succeed in your pursuit of wholeness.

Here are a few additional amenities you may enjoy during your journey:

  • Glass Blowing Experience: create a piece of beauty with your own two hands.
  • Sunset Vista Happy Hour Tour: savor the serenity of a sunset over the Tuolumne River Canyon.
  • Fitness Center: indoor exercise facility for days when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Health & Wellness Resorts

Rush Creek Lodge & Spa is one of Yosemite’s top health and wellness resorts. Enjoy stunning scenery, contemporary rustic villas, fresh and hearty California mountain lodge cuisine, Yosemite-inspired spa treatments and much more.

Begin your healing vacation today!

Rush Creek Balcony Sunset Toast (Timothy S.)

What’s New at Rush Creek this Spring

There’s a lot going on at Rush Creek Lodge this Spring, and we’re thrilled to get to share it with you. The second annual Groveland Grind bike race happens May 18th. We’re opening three new nature trails behind the lodge, and our Recreation team has added Glass Blowing and Yosemite Flight Tours to the mix!  Our Wellness program continues to expand and will soon offer classes on our new Yoga deck in the woods.

Spring has Sprung! Celebrate with us!

You heard it here first Spring has sprung in Yosemite! Which means ’tis the season for epic waterfalls, spectacular displays of spring wildflowers, snowcaps on the Sierra mountaintops, and plenty of room to roam Yosemite’s great outdoors!

Why #BookDirect?

From the moment you book direct here on our website, you are welcomed into the Rush Creek community.  You’re guaranteed access to our best room rates, plus the latest exclusive offers, packages, and perks.  We take your reservation as an opportunity to connect with you and learn how we can help you make the most of your Yosemite adventure.

Spend a Night, Donate a Dollar

With Yosemite National Park spanning over 1,000 square miles, it’s easy to imagine that there is many ongoing projects to maintain and improve your Yosemite experience. One of the most integral organizations to these projects in the park is Yosemite Conservancy. Yosemite Conservancy funds essential trail restoration, wildlife protection and visitor programs.

YARTS Comes to Rush Creek Lodge!

Starting May 18th, Yosemite Area Regional Transport Service, affectionately known as YARTS, will be stopping right here at Rush Creek Lodge. The YARTS is a public transportation service for Yosemite National Park and its surrounding area, with multiple routes and stops along the way covering all of Yosemite’s main entrances.