When Jaime Wheeler left the Boothbay Region YMCA for Holland July 23, the 14-year-old Boothbay girl had Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish with her. But the candy wasn't for the plane ride. It was for the Dutch friends she'd made here years earlier, when they were visiting from a YMCA in Katwijk, Holland.
They had brought with them a salty sort of black licorice they thought was “sweet and delicious,” Wheeler said. She did not share that opinion, and now plans to share with them her idea of real candy.
That's just one of the things she and eight other teens were looking forward to on their three-week trip chaperoned by Y staff and some of the teens' parents. It's a rotating exchange, in which the Dutch group comes to Boothbay one year, then the next year the two Ys swap at least one counselor each. This year's Holland trip by the Boothbay Region Y group is slated to be followed by another counselor swap next year.
The partnership started 18 years ago, after the Y's national arm, the Y of the USA, matched up the two Ys as “sisters,” Boothbay Region YMCA spokeswoman Meagan Hamblett said.
Some other pairings involving Ys in the U.S. fizzled, but this is one that stuck. Hamblett chalks the program's success up to the two Ys being a good fit for each other. Located on the North Sea, Katwijk is a small fishing village similar to the Boothbay area, she said.
The Boothbay group's itinerary includes biking, camping, visiting an Amsterdam museum that was the site of Anne Frank's secret attic, shopping, going to the beach and spending time with their host families.
Anna Sirois of Edgecomb, an eighth grader this fall at Boothbay Region Elementary School, packed pictures of her house, family and dogs to show her host family. She wanted to go on the trip to “learn something new, and have a totally different experience than what we have have here,” she said.
Her father, Russell Sirois, wasn't nervous about her going, “because she's a level-headed kid,” he said.
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Morley's family plans to keep in touch via Skype, and her father Andrew Morley is one of the chaperones. In the moments before they left, Hannah's mother Sarah Morley was doing fine, except for some jitters about her daughter and husband being on a plane. “Once they land, I'll be great,” she said. “But I'm excited for her, because her goal in life is to be able to travel all over the world.”
The biggest adjustment for the travelers will likely be the food, Hamblett said. Breakfast will be bread with butter and jimmies. French fries in Holland come with a mayonnaise-peanut butter mixture. And everyone in the group will have the “rite” of being offered a pickled herring, with red onion, she said.
The costs are covered through extensive fund-raising directly involving the teens. Among other methods, they created a coloring book to sell, and even sold ads for it.
While on the trip, Karl Alamo, 15, of Boothbay, plans to post updates on the Boothbay Region YMCA's Facebook page.
After they return home, participants will share their experiences in a presentation to the Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club. The organization donated $2,000 to the trip, Hamblett said.