Learning a new language on Orcas Island is all about building connections, making new friends and laughing along the way.
Since 2016, Camp Orkila, in partnership with the Funhouse Commons, has been offering English and Spanish courses.
“There are so many people who want to learn English but there isn’t always a comfortable space. It’s often too formal,” said instructor Haley Cruz Winchell, who is also a site director and oversees outdoor environmental education for Orkila. “Every week in our classes is different.”
Learning a new language not only opens the door of communication for those living in a new place or traveling but it enhances memory and cognitive function.
Participants sign up for sessions that are held in the fall, winter and spring. There are usually around 20 people in the classes, which are held at the same time so students can intermingle. The sessions are led by Cruz Winchell, Heidi Bruce, Andy Rivera and Trillium Swanson.
The curriculum accommodates all different learning levels from beginner to advanced. One couple, who is learning English, has been attending the courses since their inception. Classes are held at the Funhouse Commons.
“It’s a really accessible space and it’s free. Their support is invaluable,” Cruz Winchell said.
The end of each series of classes is commemorated with a free language mixer dinner. The next one is on Dec. 3 from 6-8 p.m. at Camp Orkila. All are welcome to attend. There are a handful of islanders who don’t participate in the classes but enjoy the dinners because they can practice their language skills. People are partnered up and converse for two minutes in Spanish and two minutes in English.
The next series of language classes will start in January. To sign up, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $100. January is also the kick-off for Orkila’s annual fund drive, which is a scholarship fundraiser to support programs like the language classes and help send more kids to camp. Island volunteers help solicit donations. If you would like to volunteer for this campaign effort, contact Cruz Winchell. Donations can be given at https://www.seattleymca.org/donate/camp-outdoor-leadership-ymca
Participant Griselda Cruz Gonzalez, who is currently learning how to read in English, says, “Initially I joined the classes to learn more English, but now it’s more for the community and to be with people I know.”