Youth camp closure impacts our community
March 31, 2022
Commentary by Karen Bertroch
The town hall meeting about the planned closure of the Naselle Youth Camp held March 17 gave the group that attended a sense of the latest reality of what’s happening as the deadline for the governor’s signature that would stop the camp’s coming closure gets closer.
An excellent article in The Chinook Observer gave the readers plenty of data. The number of employees, the amount of money lost, the loss of economic life for both western Wahkiakum and eastern Pacific counties was laid out in dollars receding from our local budgets for not only the Naselle/Grays River Valley School District (N/GRVSD), but taxes, businesses and teachers. The N/GRVSD board of directors has supported all the schools in the district, including the school at the camp.
Gary Flood, principal of the camp school said a few months ago that it’s the “best school I’ve ever worked at.”
Many years ago the camp had over 100 students there. Now the number changes weekly. Some are there for only a few days, but most are quickly moved on so that by December 31, there will be none.
As days go by, some employees are already looking for other jobs because they can’t afford to wait for the governor or to wait for the last day. If they are leaving, they may move, though some may stay and try to work on the Peninsula or Astoria.
Even so, their lives are changing, and most importantly, their children’s lives are changing as well. If they have to move, they will leave their friends and the exceptional school they have attended. Leaving friends is painful for them, yes, but the entire area considers them as part of our family.
The loss isn’t only for teachers and jobs; it’s also for everyone in our broad community. As we hear of teachers wondering if they will even have a job after May 15 when contracts are to be signed, it becomes more and more real. It all reminds us of our immigrant family members who came here well over 100 years ago with the knowledge that they may never be able to go home to their Scandinavian countries or see their family there again. That is not today’s situation surely, but still, losing the camp is hard because we must keep building our hopes up while at the same time beginning a grieving process facing the other side of the story, loss.
The community meeting brought to us the realities of losing faces and families. Many in the pews at the Community Center were not employees or teachers from the Camp. They were neighbors, folks we know and appreciate, the ones we would see at funerals, graduations and ball games. This community is more than numbers or budget dollars. They are our friends who make life better for all of us.
I was very proud of those who came to the meeting. In their own ways, they stood and spoke in support of not just the camp, and not just the N/GRVS. They spoke for the original schools here, the first teachers who lived with families while they taught a small number of students, the fathers who cut wood so the school would be warm, the men who rowed the “school boats” so their children could get an education.
Our situation is so much bigger than the camp and our school; it is our pride that is hurt because we know what wonderful impacts the camp has made in so many young people’s lives. Our hearts know the losses coming to our families will be the loss of the hearts that care for each other and us.
Let us not lose hope until the gates finally close; rather, let us believe in the good things and people here, and the love and affection we all feel for “our” community’s group of kids here, and let us say a daily prayer that we may stay close to each other in the coming months. And let’s stand in faith as we say that prayer believing that God has us in His love and we are called to share that love with each other no matter how it all changes. “In peace let us pray to the Lord, Lord have mercy.”