Three years of hard work and planning are paying off this summer for local Lions Club chapters as Multiple District 19 hosts the Yakima Valley’s first-ever Youth Exchange Program (YEP).
Local businesswoman Tammy Allan, who also serves as the MD19 chair, has been trying to organize a YEP since early 2020, right before the pandemic started. But once most health and safety restrictions were lifted, Allan and her team managed to move forward with plans for the weeklong camp, followed by homestays with host families.
Ten youths from across Europe and one from Minnesota are currently staying with local families — some on the west side of the state — after spending the week of June 23-30 staying at Camp Camano and exploring various Washington tourist destinations. Some of the participants, between the ages of 16 and 20, will stay a few more weeks while others will return home this month.
“This is the first time a YEP has ever been done in the Northwest, so this is pretty special for us,” said Allan, who owns Allan Insurance in Selah. “There are other programs all over the U.S. — including Arizona, California, Iowa and Georgia — and we are hoping our success this summer will be just the beginning for other camps like this.”
MD19 includes all of Washington, the top half of Idaho and some communities in Canada. Allan has served as chair of the district for the past three years and has always wanted to coordinate a YEP. She connected with the Ballard Lions Club in Seattle last fall about utilizing Camp Camano, and then everything else just fell into place.
“Being able to use Camp Camano is what made this possible financially,” Allan said. “We also received some donations from area Lions Clubs, and that helped us bring 11 kids to the Northwest and show them another side of U.S. culture that they don’t always see in the media.”
Allan said being able to provide the youths — especially the Europeans — a different cultural perspective has been invigorating for her and her team.
“This means the world to me,” she said. “Developing one-on-one relationships with these young people has truly made a difference in their lives — and in ours. We have showed them that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. We may be different in some ways, but we also share so many things. It’s been nice to show them that, no matter where we’re from, we can all relate.”
Campers from seven different countries made up this year’s cohort: Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, Hungary and Croatia. The youths — some who are still in school; others who have joined the workforce — arrived at the Sea-Tac International Airport on June 23 and stayed at Camp Camano through June 30.
Throughout the week, the group visited attractions such as Fort Ebey, Fort Casey, Whidbey Island, Deception Pass, Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and the Space Needle. They were also planning to float the Yakima River and attend a Yakima Valley Pippins game in early July. A potluck dinner and farewell ceremony took place July 13 at Volunteer Park.
Allan, who serves as camp director, was assisted by other Lions Club volunteers from Seattle, Sumner, Selah, Yakima and Naches, including Ashley Burmaster, John and Lauren Nowack, Lonnie Morgan, June Ferrerira, Rob and Kathy Schumer. Allan also thanked her Lions Club colleague Suzanne Newton for traveling all the way from Australia to help put on the camp.
“Suzanne is a retired police officer and her history with camp safety was invaluable for us,” Allan said, adding that Newton even paid for her own trip. “She has put on a number of camps like this, and being able to tap into her experience has been very helpful.”
MD19 is hoping this summer’s Youth Exchange Program is the first of many for the Northwest Lions Clubs. Plans are already in the works for next summer’s YEP at Camp Camano, along with a second Australia students-only camp in April. Allan also expects to send some local youths to Europe and Australia next summer.
“Before 2020, we sent a number of kids from Selah to other countries,” she said. “We would like to get a group together for next July so they can go out and experience other cultures and people. I feel like we’re right on the cusp of building something pretty exciting for the kids in our community.”
If you would like to learn more about YEP, visit MD19lionsyouthexchange.org or call Allan at 509-697-7966.