This month, Gary Drinnen took over as chair of YOKE’s board of directors. It’s the first time in the history of the organization that a former YOKE Kid – and YOKE Folk – takes the helm. We asked him how he felt about the occasion.

Tell us about your experience as a YOKE Kid.
This may come as a surprise to those who know me, but I was very shy and reserved kid at Northwest Middle School (go Rangers!). There were so many new things coming at me: new teachers, changes classes, tons of new kids, and everything else that comes with that age. I found it to be overwhelming and intimidating. I was introduced to YOKE as a 6th grader and it was a huge relief. I had found a fun group of people and a club where I could feel a sense of belonging and comfort.

The primary reason YOKE was so impactful to me was the relationships formed with YOKE folk. One of those important relationships for me was Travis Kerr. He lived in my neighborhood, went to the church I attended, and set a tremendous example for a very impressionable kid. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor at that age.

One of the more exciting things I remember was that I became the crush champ just before fall camp my 7th grade year and represented Northwest at every camp I attended after that. I’ve never admitted this until recently, but the Reebok pumps were my secret to success. When I became a board member, I hoped to find that records existed that would confirm me as the longest to hold the title in Northwest history.

Tell us about your experience as s YOKE Folk.
Serving as a YOKE Folk had a lasting impact on my life. I had opportunities to develop leadership skills in high school as a Future Folk, but my time as a YOKE Folk really sharpened me as a leader. Helping lead club, presenting the talk, and developing mentoring relationships with students were challenges that pushed be to grow and develop. I took that responsibility to heart because I knew how much YOKE meant to me as a student and I wanted to deliver that same experience to the kids in our club. I had some wonderful relationships with kids – some I am still in contact with today. The camps and the relationships that are built and nurtured there will always hold a special place in my heart

What does it mean to you to now be leading the organization?
YOKE does a tremendous job developing leaders, so I was eager to use those skills to serve an organization I care about deeply. I guess serving on the board was a natural progression of my involvement over the years – sort of a PhD from YOKE University.

First and foremost, I don’t want to mess anything up. We have a wonderful history and program, an amazing staff, and an army of dedicated volunteers. I want the Board of Directors to provide a solid organizational foundation so that those employees and volunteers can keep up the good work. It may sound cliché, but I simply want to be able to say that YOKE is stronger after my time on the Board than it was before.