Fire danger reroutes annual junior youth camp

December 12, 2023
Fire danger reroutes annual junior youth camp

Edited from reports in the Northwest Baha’i Star newsletter

As 180 young campers, facilitators, counselors and staff were arriving on Aug. 13 for the annual week-long Camp Carmel in western Oregon, word reached them that wildfires were only 12 miles away and they had to evacuate. 

Instead of a week of study and fun together at the lakeside Sky Camp Retreat Center in the foothills of the Cascades east of Eugene, carloads of young people faced a disappointing ride to safe gathering spots, then back to their homes.

But the organizers and facilitators started calling and texting. Could smaller groups be created? Could this become an opportunity for the young people to strengthen each other’s spiritual and social capacities? 

Suddenly, three camps…

Within days, Auxiliary Board members, the Regional Council, Local Spiritual Assemblies and others lent their coordination and logistical support, and by noon the day after the evacuation, Baha’i families had offered their property to house the smaller camps.

The result was three smaller camps for the dozens of the junior youth ages 12–15 and older youth who had been trained as counselors and facilitators.

  • Camp Rick in Coos Bay, on Oregon’s southern coast, for 16 participants.
  • Camp Wildfire in Sherwood, southwestern metro Portland, Oregon, for 82 participants.
  • Camp Rock in Kirkland, east of Seattle, Washington, for 18 participants. 

One bonus was that the more-localized sites allowed for participation by a few young people in each locality who hadn’t been able to travel to Camp Carmel.

 It was a “beautiful thing” to witness this regrouping, says Tia Hanson of Beaverton, Oregon, member of the committee overseeing Camp Carmel and mother of a junior youth. 

“The spirit was one of radiant acquiescence, eager service, joy, and swift, consultative collaboration,” says Hanson, who helped with Camp Wildfire. “An entire camp experience for dozens of junior youth and youth materialized out of literally thin air and very generous hosts!” 


…and a follow-up in Pullman

An additional nine-day intensive institute training program had been planned for later in the month in Pullman in eastern Washington, and went on without a hitch. The Aug. 23–31 gathering was joyful and filled with learning, fellowship and arts, according to an adult who helped supervise it, and the youths got practice in nearby communities with organizing devotions and leading children’s and junior youth classes.

photo used from Northwest Baha’i Star newsletter

A Northwest tradition

Camp Carmel is a place for youth and junior youth to deepen their understanding of Baha’i teachings, study arts and crafts, serve together, sing, play outdoors and more. Youth serve as camp counselors so that younger people can attend without their parents.  

For many years, the camp had been organized by one of more than 20 Baha’i school committees appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly. This year, the Regional Baha’i Council of the Northwestern States began overseeing it and other summer retreats in Washington and Oregon.

The orderly fire evacuation depended on the organization of Camp Carmel’s committee. Even as it was turning back families who had driven as long as five hours to reach Sky Camp, it made calls and identified families who could provide safe haven en route. 

With help from Baha’is in Lane County, a team was formed to redistribute the week’s worth of camp groceries. Local food banks were closed for the weekend, but thanks to personal connections, they arranged to accept some of the supplies.

These unfolding developments revealed the capacity built through the operation of the Baha’i training institute, especially as youth, communities and institutions in recent years have gained experience in organizing youth institute camps and summer service programs. 

Volunteers who arose to support the camps were quickly given background checks to clear them for working with young people. 

Adults at each camp helped organize logistics such as meals, meeting spaces, supervision, furnishings, registration and materials. But it was the youth, especially the counselors trained for Camp Carmel, who did the bulk of planning for the devotional, study, recreation, artistic and service activities.

The fires ended up missing Sky Camp by several miles, and a Camp Carmel committee member says the gathering is planned to be held there again next year. Recent increases in forest fires have the committee considering a different location or time of year. 

Programs at the camps

At a home in Coos Bay, the group studied the life of the Báb and His heroic ministry, 1844–1850, by reading the book Release the Sun, reported camp counselors Rubi Castillo Delgado and Logan McClain. Campers had the chance to craft their own paper and inscribe a Hidden Word on each newly made sheet. 

On the last evening, the hosts brought the group to a public concert at a park.“We all got up to dance in front of the stage, which had never happened!” Delgado says. “People came up to ask who we were, and we said ‘We’re Bahá’ís! We’re here to have fun!’ People began to join in and begged us to come back.” 

The largest group gathered at a farm in Sherwood, which required the largest network of community support. The Spiritual Assembly of Washington County arose quickly to sponsor the camp. “Parents were incredibly flexible, responsive, understanding and supportive,” Hanson says. 

The program stayed flexible through several “taxing and hot” days, she says, noting that one day the campers were released after dinner because of excessive heat and a smoke-related air quality advisory. 

In Kirkland, the city’s Local Assembly offered sponsorship and organized food, registration and volunteers at the home of a Baha’i. Two local coordinators for the junior youth program — who had been prepped as counselors for Camp Carmel — organized a program based on the junior youth text Walking the Straight Path, which encourages moral development. 

They quickly arranged facilitator training for the evening before the camp started. One of the artistic activities was collaboration on making a video on virtues and service. And small groups carried out acts of service such as collecting bags of food for a local charity, composing and teaching music, and planning recreation and devotions for the camp itself. 

Andi Perrycook, one of the junior youth coordinators in Kirkland, says when she and her friend, Oliva Rahbin, attended an institute gathering in December 2022, they admired the hosts’ abilities. “Maybe someday we would be ready for this,” she remembers thinking — not knowing how soon they would find themselves rising to the challenge. 

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