My oldest daughter Skye is an environment enthusiast. She especially loves marine biology and has done much reading and research on the subject. It disturbs her to find trash discarded carelessly, especially plastics washed up on the beach. She has been conscientious about recycling, and is often frustrated by all the plastics being used excessively and unnecessarily, or to see people not bothering to recycle.
Several months ago, Brent and Skye attended a lecture by Waynflete about plastics. There they learned about a program called Rippleffect. Its purpose is “to promote youth development and leadership through adventure, healthy communities and living sustainably.” Skye was very enthusiastic about it, and proceeded to apply for the CELP, the Cow Island Environmental Leadership Program for high school age teens. She was accepted into the program, and excitedly made preparations for her 4-week stay at Cow Island.
Skye spent Monday through Thursday each week camping out and working on the island. On Friday the CELP students went into Portland for a community field trip to places such as ecomaine and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. She came home for the weekends.
On Friday evening at the end of her first week I picked her up at the ferry terminal in Portland. It was the perfect time and opportunity for me to take her to dinner in the Old Port. We walked several blocks from our parking spot to Margarita’s. During our walk and while in the restaurant, I noticed Skye smiling and greeting nearly every person we passed or interacted with. At one point during our walk a guy on a skateboard came up behind us. She invited him to be in a photo she was taking of the two of us. He joined us as though we were old friends. Either Rippleffect’s CELP program is effective in encouraging and building social skills, confidence, and self-esteem; or Skye was just in a really good mood. Either way, it was great.
The CELP group focused on a different curriculum each week. The students (13 total) were involved in several stewardship programs which included maintaining Cow Island’s organic garden, managing a compost system, and working on the trails. They took several sea kayaking adventures to various islands including Little Chebeague Island where they engaged in some community service. They also participated in challenge courses, cook-offs, and other activities. At the end of each week when she came home from CELP, Skye was brimming with excitement and had much to share about her adventures. It was nice to have her home on the weekends, and she was glad to have the chance to get thoroughly cleaned up (there were no showers on Cow Island). But she always was looking forward to the following week with CELP. One of the first things she told us when she came home the first weekend was “We need to compost…and we need to recycle more!” She’d brought home an ecomaine magnet for our fridge that listed all the different types of recyclable materials.
The last week the group kayaked to Jewel Island for a 2-day expedition at Jewel Island and another day at Little Chebeague. Unfortunately the weather was foggy and rainy, so they were forced to camp out at Jewel another night and skip Chebeauge. On the last Friday, the very last day of the program, parents and family were invited to go to the island for lunch, a slideshow, graduation ceremony, and tour of the island. Brent was working, Jenna was at a week-long art course, and Hayley was out of town to attend a circus with her friend. I was happy for the opportunity to attend, and to see where Skye had been living, working, and playing the past month.
Friday morning I took the ferry from Casco Bay to Diamond Cove. I had to park quite a distance from the ferry terminal, so I took off my sandals and ran most of the way so I wouldn’t miss it. I was on time, but the ferry was filled to capacity, and I had to stand at the railing the entire hour-long ride. It wasn’t bad though, and the weather was beautiful. The ferry stopped at several islands to drop off and pick up passengers as well as to deliver freight. At Diamond Cove I took a small boat, the Rippleffect shuttle, to Cow Island. It was a fun 5-minute ride. Toby, the Island Manager and Director of Operations was driving the boat. He was incredibly friendly, enthusiastic, and funny. He told us the history of Cow Island. It was formerly a military base in 1907, and it was purchased in 2001 by Rippleffect and transformed into an environment for its youth development programs. When we arrived at the island and Toby mentioned that he would lead us to where the students were, one of the dads (I’m guessing) joked, “Never mind the kids! What about lunch?”
We found the CELP students at a group of tables under a tarp where they were making metal rings. The rings started out as long strips of metal. The students had agreed on a word, “unity” together, which they engraved on one side of the metal strip (which would be the outside). They had each then individually chosen a word to engrave on the other side (eventually the inside). Skye decided on “journey.” Skye had just formed her ring into a circle to fit her finger. I thought it was a great representation of both their teamwork and support for each other, as well as their individual qualities and contributions.
Before lunch we all gathered in a “chow circle,” something the group did before every meal. We linked arms, someone shared a poignant quote, and floor was open to anyone with announcements, thoughts, or concerns. Skye had spoken very highly to us about the “professional” island chef who cooked all their meals. She described his cooking as healthy, hand-made, and delicious. I was looking forward to the opportunity to test out his culinary skills. We were served handmade pizzas on flatbread with fresh ingredients from the island organic garden, salad (also picked fresh from the garden), and mussels. Skye was right. It was amazing! After we finished eating we picked up our glass plates and metal flatware, and Skye led me over to some tables covered with basins of water: two with soapy water, one with rinse water, and one with a disinfecting solution. At the end of the line was a drying rack. Skye told me they each washed their own dishes after every meal. I was impressed.
Before and after the slideshow Skye gave me a tour the island. As it was originally a military base, there were several stone fortresses and bunkers on the grounds. Skye led me into “the tunnel” in one of the fortresses. It was a long, narrow, pitch-black, semi-circular tunnel. It was only about 18 inches wide, so my shoulders were rubbing the walls nearly the entire 5-minute journey. It was rather unsettling walking in the dark with my arms on Skye’s shoulders as she was feeling the walls to guide us. It was fun though, and I can see why Skye enjoyed it so much. One of the major things on her bucket list is to visit and old, abandoned mental asylum. Also, she loves horror movies. :-)
The island was maintained beautifully. Skye showed me where she tent-camped the first couple nights and the beaches and coves from where they swam and kayaked. There were eco-friendly bathrooms with toilets that flushed without water or chemicals and emptied into an underground compost system. The hand-washing station was simply a jug that collected rain water and emptied into a large bowl over which to wash one’s hands. I saw the organic garden maintained by the students, and several solar panels around the island. There was a climbing wall, as well as a zip line erected for their recreation. Skye said it was fun, but unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to try it out. ;-) She brought me inside several of the bunkers, one in which she’d slept with her group, and one in which supplies were being stored. Skye also showed me the yurt she’d slept in, something I’d never before heard of. It is a portable bent dwelling, this one made of a canvas-like fabric. It was pretty cool.
A while after lunch, everyone gathered into one of the bunkers where Sarah, one of the counselors and also the photographer, set up a slideshow presentation with her laptop. She had pictures from the last four weeks projected onto the stone wall. Sarah had taken a lot of great candid pictures, capturing the reality of the students’ experiences. Throughout the slideshow the CELP students explained the pictures, and reminisced about them. I enjoyed and appreciated being able to share in these moments. Below are a few of the photos Sarah had taken and shared with us during the slideshow.
Following the slideshow we gathered back in the big circle. The CELP students stood separately from visiting family members. Toby (the island manager) and Leah, the youth program director explained to parents and family members the mission of Rippleffect and shared with us exactly what the students had been doing the past several weeks. Then each of the students took a turn to tell everyone what their “high tide” (most positive experience) and “low tide” (most negative experience) was. Most all the “low tides” were related to the poor cold, foggy, rainy weather that forced them to stay on Jewel Island an extra day. It was clear that the program itself was one big “high tide” for all of the kids. Skye’s “high tide” was that she made friends with great people with whom she had so much in common. I know that she’s never felt so close to and comfortable with peers as she has during her stay at Cow Island. I appreciate that she recognizes the value in developing good, healthy relationships.
Finally, we had the graduation ceremony. The students formed a smaller circle and each received a certificate with another student’s name on it. They were instructed to each take turns presenting that certificate to the other student, revealing a positive quality about the recipient. Once the presenter handed over the certificate, he/she would receive a necklace: a rock which was a part of Cow Island with a string through it. I thought it was brilliant. I could feel the sense of camaraderie among all the CELP students. What a great end to a fantastic day…and to a wonderful program!
We needed to be at Diamond Cove at 4pm to catch the ferry back to Portland. We had some time for photos and games. I had the unique opportunity to play one of the CELP students’ favorite games: “Yee-Haw!” It requires a fairly good memory, creativity, and extroversion. I think Skye was a little surprised and embarrassed by my enthusiasm when I noticed her cringe and hide her face during my spotlight time. :-)
Skye and I were able to get a seat on the ferry back to Portland. Exhausted, Skye dozed off for a while on my shoulder. The ride was really nice.
I’m so glad Skye had the opportunity to be involved in Rippleffect and to participate in CELP. It’s truly an amazing program. I respect its mission, and the positive benefits participants (students, volunteers, guides) gain from being a part of it. They learn and are encouraged to work together, to respect and care for the environment, serve the community, and develop leadership skills. Skye said she wants continue to be involved with Rippleffect, and try another one of Rippleffect’s programs. What do I say to that?