Wilderness, Zumiez and Hope: Youth Leadership Adventures Reunion 2013

YLC reunion
Story and photos by Liza Dadiomov.
As the temperature outside gets cooler and the leaves turn vibrant hues of yellow, red, and orange, I find myself hunkered down indoors and the memories of my summer become distant. However, on September 28, I had the chance to reunite with students that participated in Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades this past summer. Reconnecting with the students and their families brought me back to the incredible communities we formed in the backcountry of the North Cascades just a few months ago.
Over 100 people attended the reunion, including students, their families, North Cascades Institute staff, graduate students and our hosts for the day: Tom Campion and Zumiez staff. Zumiez is an action-sports retail company with stores all over the US and Canada. Tom Campion, Zumiez co-founder and renowned advocate of wilderness preservation, graciously offered their headquarters in Lynnwood, WA for the big event.

YLC reunionAlumni, families, and North Cascades Institute staff all reflected on their summers.

The morning began with a warm welcome by Campion and Aneka Singlaub, North Cascade Institute’s Youth Leadership Coordinator. Following an icebreaker game, Campion shared some of his passions with the audience. He reflected on a wilderness experience he had as an eighth-grader and the impact that left on his own life. He continued with a story about his and others efforts to save the spotted owl, a critically endangered species that lives in old-growth forests. Campion’s more recent work has been in the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

While sharing breathtaking photos and stories of this remote wilderness and the threats that ANWR faces, Campion asked the students, “What does wilderness mean to you?”  Some of the answers included, “A place that makes me feel small,” “Falling out of a canoe into Ross Lake,” and “Home.” Campion concluded by sharing the hope he feels for the future because of the spotted owl saga and the amazing students sitting in front of him.

YLC reunionTom Campion and some Youth Leadership Adventures students.

Thien, a 15-year old from Seattle, and Brianna, a 16-year old from Mount Vernon, shared some stories from their Youth Leadership Adventure courses this past summer. While listening to them, I was reminded of the hope I felt at the end of the season because of my students. Thien shared how eye-opening his backpacking and canoeing trip was for him, the work he went on to do with the Student Conservation Association and other changes he’s made in his everyday life following his adventure. Brianna described the independence and empowerment she gained through her experiences and how that has helped her in her life back in Mount Vernon.

YLC reunionThien shares his story with the audience.

The presentations were followed with “Roses and Thorns,” a reflective activity students participated in every day on course during the summer. Sitting with my students sharing my highlights from the summer, I felt the power of the communities we formed out on Ross, Diablo and Baker Lakes. The day wrapped up with an award ceremony honoring the students for all of the service work they contributed including  trail work, donor presentations and field science projects.
As an instructor, I completely agree with Tom in feeling hopeful through reconnecting with these young leaders. Many students left Zumiez Headquarters feeling inspired, reconnected and excited for future experiences in America’s public lands.

YLC reunionNorth Cascades Institute staff participate in games with the students.

Erikka Olson, a junior from Mount Vernon, shared that “seeing my friends was awesome! I hadn’t realized how much I had missed them until we all saw each other. I thought that the slideshow of Alaska was really interesting! I am so grateful to Zumiez for hosting us in their awesome headquarters. I appreciate how the building was designed to be environmentally-friendly. Overall, it was a  great day, and thanks to North Cascades Institute for setting it up.”

 YLC reunionErikka and some of her trip-mates.

Meron Abdisa, a sophomore from Shoreline, said, “The reunion brought me great joy because I saw my friends and instructors. I learned new information during Tom’s presentation that is helping me figure out what I can do next. We were welcomed with great food. Thank you!”

YLC reunion Meron and some of her peers pose for photo. 

Seeing my students, I felt at home, like I was back in the wilderness of the North Cascades. The hope that Tom Campion shared with us on this fall day was motivating and inspirational!


Leading photo: Final group shot before departure from the Youth Leadership Adventures Reunion. Photo by Liza Dadiomov.
Liza Dadiomov is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed program. She grew up in Russia, Israel, and the United States and loves spending time outdoors hiking and skiing. During her graduate residency, Liza mentored undergraduate interns, assisted with curriculum, and recruited for the summer Youth Leadership program. As a student at WWU, she is now a Garden Educator in Bellingham elementary schools.


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