Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez
Indira Mejia-Chavez was born in Mexico, but her mom raised her and her two younger siblings in the Skagit valley, where she lives today. Her first experience with North Cascades Institute was in 2004 when she attended Mountain School with her fifth grade class. Now 21, Indira still has a vivid memory of that first experience with North Cascades Institute.
“Mountain School was a whole new world I’d never seen before…and it was pretty cool,” she remembers. “We were exposed to a natural setting, we made our own bracelets, tasted healthy food that we didn’t know could be made (because you know, it has to be bad for you to taste so good)!”
She recalls how going to Mountain School brought everyone in her class together more. The cliques that were already starting to form in her class were broken up by the trail groups; everyone was able to mesh together and bond.
And her favorite activity at Mountain School? Water quality testing!
“I really liked putting two and two together,” she explains, “if the water isn’t producing animals, then the water isn’t good quality. It just made sense. I still remember the guy that was leading us told me, ‘You’re very smart, you could be a scientist.’”
For a time, Indira thought she wanted to be a community police officer, but she realized that she wants to do something she loves, and share that love with others. Her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water quality. Although she is taking a break from school after several terms at Western Washington University, her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water
Although Indira’s initial experience with Mountain School made a big impression, she didn’t stop there. In 2009, she participated in North Cascades Institute’s North Cascades Wild program. Two years later she was back at the Institute for our Cascades Climate Challenge program (the two programs are now combined into our Youth Leadership Adventures program).
Between the two courses, Indira spent over a month in the backcountry of the North Cascades pushing herself to overcome the challenges that everyone experiences when placed far outside their comfort zone and the familiarity of home and family.
“When I went on North Cascades Wild,” she says, “I spent a lot of time focusing on the negative – this is so hard, I wish we’d take a break – I complained a lot! With Cascades Climate Challenge, I knew what to expect and didn’t want to miss out on anything. It was so beautiful and I didn’t want to get distracted. I grew so much from the opportunity to lead others.”
The year after her transformative Cascades Climate Challenge experience, Indira returned to North Cascades Institute to participate as a Student Success Panelist at the Youth Leadership Conference and share her growth and experiences with her peers. At the same time, she took so much away from them.
“It was really amazing meeting the other leaders, learning their mindsets,” she explains, “Like CJ Goulding—he’s a very real, down-to-earth person and I thought it was really cool to see that he cared a lot for the other youth.”
In addition to being recognized as a leader at the Youth Leadership Conference, Indira was a Skagit Valley College Champion of Diversity recipient in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
When asked how all of these experiences have influenced her unfolding life, Indira responded, “They taught me to pace myself and be aware of my surroundings; to make sure when I’m solving a problem that it’s nourishing the relationship I have with the person; to be ok with who I am; to remind others that we’re all a part of a community. When I’m around people who have done these programs, they have a different mindset, and I love it. I always learn from them.”
Indira has been so inspired by all of her experiences with North Cascades Institute that she volunteered to be an assistant from 2013-2014 with the Institute’s Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Project, which provides monthly field trips to youth and their families from three ethnically-diverse Skagit Valley neighborhoods.
She says, “It’s a great opportunity for families to bond, to go outside and do fun things that they wouldn’t otherwise have the means to do.”
Having grown up having to make do with less, and working in the summer to help support her family, Indira knows the vital importance of these opportunities.
In 2014, Indira had the chance to return to Mountain School, ten years after attending as a young student. But this time she came to the Environmental Learning Center as a chaperone with Kulshan Creek kids. For her, it was coming full circle and giving back to the first program that made such a big impression on her and changed the trajectory of her life.
“I feel very blessed for having had the opportunity to participate in all of these programs, and am so glad I always chose to do them, because it has been worth it every time—even with not showering for a week!” Indira explained. “I wish kids would play more with each other, and get outside instead of being stuck inside with electronics—I wish they would disconnect, and connect with themselves, each other, and nature.”
“Mountain School is not an opportunity—it’s a gift,” she says, in closing. “I wish we had more financial means to support the program so that more kids could have the opportunity. I also want to say thank you to everybody who has been part of and supported my experiences—North Cascades Institute is full of awesome, very positive people!”