Strengthening Families Through the Outdoors | Impact Newsletter

Last updated: September 7, 2023, at 10:47 a.m. PT

Originally published: August 16, 2023, at 10:49 a.m. PT

young boy, and teen girl standing with their mother with a dock and water in the background

“Even if you think you’ve done all the stuff, you’re wrong," says Diego, a Camp Orkila participant. Diego is right about that. Y outdoor leadership programs have so much to offer. From archery to ziplining, camp staff know how to make summer as exciting as it is meaningful.

And all that excitement, combined with being surrounded by strangers and far from home, often for the first time, can be challenging. But challenging doesn’t equal bad, “... you feel like you're going to leave, but no, you just stay, and you have a whole bunch of fun.” Diego’s glad he stayed because it meant not only being able to hang out with friends from school but also making new ones over the summer – friendships that have lasted and that he’s still in contact with. 

Even with all the shared activities and structured time at camp, branching out and making new friends like that can be hard. His sister, Renata, struggled a little at first when she was “seeing the other girls hanging out... and I was like, oh, I want that.” And she got her wish thanks to a counselor who helped her realize, “Well, if I want that, I need to put myself out there, too.”  

Renata’s experience is a great example of the profound social-emotional learning that outdoor experiences provide, which schools often don’t have the time or capacity to facilitate. We know camp can. And it is even more relevant to this current generation after the pandemic disrupted their connection to the world. Kids are spending three times as many hours with screens as they do in nature right now. Technology can do a lot, but relying on it so heavily means kids are missing out on developing problem-solving, critical thinking, curiosity, self-discipline, decision-making, leadership, and confidence in themselves and their abilities. The value of embracing challenges is another one of those important lessons we all learn in our own ways. It’s a lesson that Renata learned at camp, “To have fun, sometimes you got to do some scary stuff, and then you'll realize, oh, that wasn't so bad. Oh, I had a lot of fun doing that!”  

Back home, even in familiar surroundings, Diego and Renata’s mother, Pamela, was a little fearful at first at the prospect of letting her kids go to overnight camp, “... but I think we all developed in that particular aspect, in the confidence that we can trust other people, that it’s Camp Orkila so that we as parents can be sure that our children are safe.” The confidence and safety of all of her kids are built every year at Orkila, with them all having learned to swim there as well as developing their confidence in the outdoors and with others. Despite initially being concerned that her kids hadn’t explored some of the physical and outdoorsy activities associated with camp or that they would be so far away from home, camp turned out to be a great match for them all. Diego and Renata’s individuality was encouraged, they were all able to benefit in different ways, and the resulting changes have endured well beyond the season. Whether we’re talking swimming or social skills, “... once I learn to do that here, I’m more confident to [make new friends] in school,” says her daughter. 

And Orkila’s impact isn’t just limited to their kids. After moving their family from Mexico to Orcas Island, they wanted to ensure they all feel at home while maintaining their family’s connection to their native language and culture. Orkila’s Spanish-speaking camps for Latinx children were a huge help, and they’ve also had opportunities to meet campers and counselors from all over the world. And Pamela and her husband were welcomed into the Orkila community as well. “They are very, very attentive to us... they do a lot to involve us in events or festivals, meals, and even English classes.” And they have attended every single session of those classes. 

“I hope this continues for many years because it helped my children. I want more children to live this beautiful experience. I hope more parents, more families, have the opportunity to live this beautiful experience.” 

Last year 3,781 young people had their own unique, beautiful experiences through YMCA Camp Orkila and Camp Colman. Plus, 20% of those kids received financial assistance to attend, which is only made possible because of donors like you! You make it possible for families like Pamela’s to experience the outdoors and find themselves in nature. They are growing, becoming more confident, and nurturing a connection with nature that inspires responsibility and stewardship. Thank you! 

Watch Pamela's Story