Camp Orkila offering English and Spanish classes for adult learners

Possessing the gift of language can open doors around the world and in your own backyard.

Camp Orkila has been offering Spanish and English courses for islanders since last fall. They have become so popular that there is a waiting list for the next round of classes.

“Orkila is doing more than just summer camp,” said Haley Cruz Winchell, who is the site director and oversees outdoor environmental education. “It has a lot of untapped resources, and YMCA is moving towards supporting all people better. We want to serve more adults and just more of the local Orcas community.”

Language teacher Wendy Vallejos and Cruz Winchell had the idea to present a 10-week long course after seeing islanders who needed help with both English and Spanish.

“The biggest barrier for new immigrant Latinos is the language barrier,” said Cruz Winchell.

Orkila joined forces with the Orcas Island School District and The Funhouse to offer weekly English as a Second Language (ESL) and Spanish as a Second Language classes. The teachers are Vallejos, Heidi Bruce and Pamela Jimenez.

Bruce is an editor, researcher and educator and serves as board president of the Orcas Island Forest School. Vallejos, originally hailing from Los Angeles, grew up in a Salvadoran immigrant family where she developed her passion for language and human rights. Jimenez was born in Saltillo Coahuila, north of Mexico City and works at the Outlook Inn.

Each weekly session is two hours and there is a minimum of two hours of homework every week.

“Adult learning is challenging. You have to commit the time,” said Cruz Winchell.

The first ESL classes, held at the school, had 12 students and the SSL class had nine. This time around, both courses have 14 participants each and are in The Funhouse.

To sign up for the waiting list to be in the fall course, email The cost is $100.

Orkila has also been holding language mixer dinners for students of the classes to mingle and speak each other’s languages. They are also open to anyone in the community. The evening includes a free meal and games.

“These classes are ultimately bringing the Orcas community together,” said Cruz Winchell.

Annual fund drive

Each winter, Orkila holds a fundraising drive. Island volunteers solicit donations to help provide scholarships to kids in need, and this year’s goal is $92,000. Donations made to the annual campaign will provide scholarships for campers and help support local programming. To donate, visit

“We know camp strengthens skills and builds character in young people,” said Cruz Winchell. “A camp experience can give youth important values they will use throughout their lives. Investing in youth is an investment in our future.”