Erin O’Dell says it’s just more fun to be happy.
As director of the resource center and a mother of two who still finds time to work out every weekday, it’s an important mantra to remember.
“I look up to people who are mothers on their own,” O’Dell said. “So if they can do it, I sure as heck should be able to.”
In 2002, she was on break from Evergreen State College and camping on Orcas for the summer when she met her future husband Justin Frausto after he picked her up as a hitchhiker. They hit it off, and maintained a relationship while she finished her degree in political science and Spanish. By 2006 they were married and making a home on Orcas. A year later, O’Dell gave birth to their son Forest, now 11.
“I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I didn’t know when or with who, but whether or not I would was never a question,” said O’Dell. “My mom had us really young, so she made me promise to do something for myself before I had children,” she said.
For O’Dell, that meant going to college and interning in Nicaragua and Ecuador where she worked with families and children in crisis. She also received a certificate in family support studies at Edmonds Community College. O’Dell considered going to culinary school as well but instead worked at various cafes on Orcas during the summers. Her family now enjoys the baking and cooking skills she picked up from that time in her life.
“Forest made me a mom,” she said. “He’s quiet but really playful. He loves to be at home, but he also loves adventuring. We’re similar that way.”
In 2014, O’Dell had Ember, who she says lives up to her name.
“She has a spark and a fire in her,” she said. “Forest is very grounded and Ember is fiery.”
Their property has a basketball court and play structure, and the family spends a lot of time outdoors. Justin is a heavy equipment operator, so Forest uses the company excavator to keep the potholes filled in their driveway.
O’Dell taught Spanish at the Orcas Christian School and worked in the English Language Learners department at Orcas Elementary before starting at the Orcas Community Resource Center in 2007. O’Dell initially worked as a family support advocate and program administrator and is now the executive director. The nonprofit provides a safety net for Orcas Island’s most vulnerable residents by helping with referrals to mental health counseling, state assistance, health insurance, meals on wheels and much more. She was also with San Juan County Health and Community Services for nearly a decade as a Spanish interpreter and breastfeeding counselor.
“I am so grateful to have a career that is heart-fulfilling but also flexible,” O’Dell said. “We are able to put our own families first. If we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others?”
Working with local families in crisis has taught her that “everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got.”
“I’m very grateful to have the stability I do in my life,” O’Dell said. “I set all my judgment aside because you never know how someone got to where they are at.”
Growing up, she watched her own parents work multiple jobs and provide for the family with food stamps. Her mom and dad went back to college while their kids were in high school.
“I am so grateful to my mom. She’s one of my heroes. She’s so non judgmental and patient,” O’Dell said.
She feels the hardest part about being a mom is the “uncertainty of wanting to do the best for them but not knowing if I am.”
Five times a week O’Dell takes classes at Fitness Quest NW, where she does kettle bell circuits, TRX and yoga. When the owners are on vacation, O’Dell also fills in as a guest instructor.
“I love being part of a family, and I also have parts that are just for me,” she said. “Working out is my mental health time.”
Every other year, they take a family vacation to somewhere warm like Mexico or Hawaii. Each summer they can be found on their boat (Sucia is a favorite destination) and camping.
“Both Justin and I work fulltime so we make our time together really matter,” she said. “We both read to the kids a lot and stay on the same page with discipline and bed times.”