In their own words…Articles from our Youth

Recently, we had an amazing experience at Camp Orkila. The first San Juan Youth Leadership Conference happened, bringing youth from Lopez, San Juan and Orcas Islands. Here are two accounts from our local youth on how the weekend unfolded:) Enjoy!

Camp Orkila was an amazing experience, and I will always remember it. Before the leadership conference, my friends would talk about it all the time, and I would always listen intently at the stories of mud pits and giant swings, wondering what it was like. When I got invited to come, I was so excited, I spent the rest of the day pondering about how the trip would be.

On the way there, somewhere along the ride we picked up Orcas in a big, bulky, Camp Orkila bus. It was an old bus, with clear signs of paint chipping. There were silver rungs above our heads, making me tempted to swing on them, though we probably weren’t suppose to. I enjoyed swinging on them anyways. Orcas and Friday Harbor didn’t mind any attention to each other. It was long, quiet and awkward. When we got to camp, we were greeted by Anika, Steve, and Jenny, the three Orkila counselors. There were small whispers rippling around the room, but it was only conversations between our own islands. Lopez hadn’t arrived yet, so there were a lot of empty chairs.

Eventually Lopez came, but by then I felt like there was a thick, long line splitting us into three groups of civilization. There was Lopez, Friday Harbor, and Orcas. Three separate islands that seemed like strangers to each other. We were separated into three cabins, one for each island. The tension was so thick I felt like I could cut it with a butter knife.

However, Camp Orkila had us play games that made us all interact with each other. We started to make small conversations, and we made a few acquaintances here and there. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Some people already knew each other to begin with, which probably made the transition easier. We played games that taught us to ask for help when we needed it, to lean on each other, and to work together as a team. We learned how to be leaders, but how to also to follow. In the world of Camp Orkila, nothing was ridiculous. Nothing was boring.

By the second day, I felt more comfortable with everyone. At night, we watched a movie (lots of ranting involved) and played games, and ate marshmallows around the campfire. Everyone split off between the groups of activities, wandering around from section to section. I fell asleep thinking that maybe we weren’t as different as I thought we were. Except the fire alarm went off three more times. Someone suggested, “We should, like, totally invade Orcas and be like ‘hey there’,” but we didn’t think they would really appreciate that.

It turned out one of our fire alarms were broken, which lead a chain reaction to the rest of them, creating a harmonic symphony of an ear-piercing, high pitched cacophony. One of my friends came over from another cabin and offered, “Jump into my arms! I’ll definitely catch you!”, but I wasn’t so sure I would survive the jump.

The last day was the best day. Yet it was the worst day. The giant swing was our last stop at Camp Orkila. I was totally pumped up. We geared up with our lovely blue bouffants (stylish) and suspenders that gave you wedgies, and split into two groups for the two swings. The swings were high up in the air, with a ‘Y’ shape to keep you from crashing sideways into the trees. You could decide whether to go all the way up or choose to go lower. I decided that I would go all the way up in a split-second decision and chose to go second. Everybody else in line would pull you up with rope, and you had to pull a purple string to let yourself go.

Going up was easy, but letting go was hard. I know that if I didn’t make a snap-decision, I would never have been able to pull the rope. So I pulled it (without thinking), and my stomach flipped and I was falling faster than I had ever fallen before. I swung in a huge ark, my voice falling in and out with the velocity I was speeding at. It was extremely nerve wracking, but I have no regrets. When I got off and it was my turn to join in with the pulling, I laughed and talked with my group the whole time. We got sidetracked a little, sometimes forgetting to pull the rope, but it was fun getting to know everybody. The worst part, though, was leaving. I had just experienced a taste of Camp Orkila, and I wanted to eat the whole cake. But I didn’t have that luxury. I left my email to my newfound friends and left for good. I realized it isn’t about Orcas, Lopez, or Friday Harbor. It’s about the San Juan Islands, the amazing community we are. We can choose to think of ourselves as separate. But I like it better when we’re one of the same, three parts of the same whole. I will never forget Camp Orkila, or the marks that it left on my heart.

Aida Must, 7th grader from Friday Harbor

Another youth shares his experience, too….

Did you hear over 40 local youth from San Juan, Lopez and Orcas Islands commenced at Camp Orkila for the FIRST San Juan Youth Leadership Conference? I should know, I was there! Meeting, mingling, and movement got us to know each other quickly. Team-building games, skills and discussions were part of this experience. I also got an opportunity to share some of the Strategic Prevention Framework I learned this summer at a National Conference. We looked at Environmental Strategies and how we can effectively be a change agent for our communities. Each and every participant enjoyed, appreciated and rejoiced in this full weekend of learning, bonding and sharing. It really was special.

Without the support of the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition, Camp Orkila, and the other Prevention Groups and Clubs from Lopez and Orcas, this educational and highly impactful experience wouldn’t have happened. I say Thank you! And, sharing it with teens from Lopez and Orcas made it that much more fun and effective. We talked about ways to keep coming together to share ideas and work together on projects for our communities.

I learned that people are born with leadership styles and they can change through the years.  Are you a Lion, a Monkey, an Owl or a Koala?  And, we  should try to honor each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

Thank you to Rick Hughes for giving an informative talk on what he does as a County Councilman and offering his support to us.

We rode a very tall swing built in the tree tops! Our teammates pulled us up by a long red rope. The thrill of soaring through the trees was exhilarating! Natural highs for this guy. We also enjoyed a rope course, where we needed the help of others to be successful. And, we also did a trust walk were we were blindfolded and walked in a conga line through the forest only navigated by the sound of a teammate’s voice, who wasn’t blindfold. We were pushed to our “challenge zone” at times and it felt good to achieve new levels of confidence when doing so. But it was also okay to check oneself and step down, if needed. This was about knowing yourself and peer pressure never came into this. In fact, I recall only words of encouragement being shouted. We left our mark by planting Daffodil bulbs for next spring as a service project for the camp. Overall, it was a super fun trip and looking forward to using the new skills I gained.

Zach Fincher, 9th grader, Friday Harbor


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