Orkila has continued to offer opportunities for kids.

A cornerstone for Orcas Camp Orkila during COVID

The pandemic has not stopped YMCA Camp Orkila from enriching and supporting its island community.

For more than 100 years, the camp has been educating, inspiring and challenging thousands of children at its 280-acre, waterfront facility, and since last June, the staff has led alternative, COVID-19-safe programming.

“This school year, we had the great pleasure to collaborate with the Orcas Island School District to offer outdoor environmental education to grades K-8,” said Haley Cruz Winchell, senior program director of education and family programs. “Every grade gets one day/week to come to camp in small cohorts to spend their ‘school-day outdoors being facilitated by Orkila instructors. It is truly a great light in these dark times to see kids — in masks — laughing, playing, connecting in real life to each other and nature. This program will continue through the end of the school year and is greatly appreciated by teachers, parents and especially students.”

Orkila also partnered with the school to create a “Virtual Learning Support” program. From September through mid-February, the camp hosted up to 25 students at the facility to log on to virtual classes. Staff also provided childcare, one-on-one tutoring and academic assistance daily.

“After their online classes were done mid-day, the kiddos got to explore the forests, beaches and fields of Orkila for an afternoon of challenge, exploration and connection,” said Cruz Winchell.

Last summer, 95 island children participated in day camp. Registration for the 2021 day camp (with several overnight options) opened on March 15; sign up at www.seattleymca.org/orcas-daycamp. Each week of camp focuses on a different topic such as outer space; medieval times; the sea; sports; animals and traveling the world.

“The pandemic has also brought around some excellent, creative community partnerships,” Cruz Winchell said.

Camp Orkila joined forces with the Orcas Food Bank to turn donated local produce into delectable soups. Volunteers use the camp’s commercial kitchen twice a week under the guidance of volunteer Chef Dylan Reboulet. Customers have taken home 4,800 bowls of frozen soup to date.

This spring, the community is invited to participate in zipline and climb days on April 25, May 23 and June 6. Register by emailing korourke@seattleymca.org. The cost is $10 per person. Scholarships are available and capacity is limited.

“We would love to host other schools, community groups or staff teams at camp,” Cruz Winchell said. “The great outdoors lends perfectly for physical distancing, while socially connecting.”

Anyone who would like information about booking an event can email mbowler@seattleymca.org.

The camp has just launched its annual fund drive to raise money for scholarship support. Donations can be made at https://www.seattleymca.org/donate/camp-outdoor-leadership-ymca and those interested in being involved in the drive as a volunteer can email hcruzwinchell@seattleymca.org or korourke@seattleymca.org.

“We are so grateful for all of you who have contributed in the past and are hopeful folks will continue their donation to ensure all our programs remain accessible to our kiddos and community,” Cruz Winchell said.


Orkila has continued to offer opportunities for kids.