May 4, 1998


Giving what they can of themselves


photo by Deborah Stone

George and Carolyn Brannen.

  by Deborah Stone

   George and Carolyn Brannen of Woodinville are the recent recipients of the Program Volunteer of the Year Award for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. The Brannens were recognized for their joint contribution to the Y's Camp Orkila over the past twenty years. The couple, who have three sons, Kenneth, Sean and Charles, began working at Orkila when their children were very young, and they have continued their association with the camp summer after summer.
   George is a physician who became involved with the camp through several colleagues. He began volunteering as the doctor-on-site at Orkila, and his wife Carolyn, a school nurse, came to assist him in the infirmary. In the mid 80's, George became the medical director and since then, he has been responsible for staffing physicians for the summer, ordering the supplies, setting up the equipment and developing medical policies.
   The couple speak fondly of their experiences and hold the YMCA in high regard. "The Y is a wonderful organization and Camp Orkila is a special place," says George. "There is such high moral leadership and a sense of spirituality that affects everyone who is involved. All of the staff have a sincere interest in humanitarianism and their efforts are widespread. The Y is extremely inclusive and is for everyone with any belief or spiritual system.
   The Brannen's children attended Orkila through their teen years and all have great memories of the camp. Their youngest son, Charles, a WHS senior, has even gone on to work as a counselor at Orkila in the sailing program. "The camp bonds kids and makes them want to give back when they get older," explains Carolyn. "Campers become counselors and this sends a strong message that camp works." It takes many people to insure that the camp runs smoothly, and among these are the volunteers who contribute their time, skills and energy year after year.
   According to George Brannen, many of the physicians who staff the infirmary have a long-term allegiance with Orkila. They have been there for over a decade, and their families are also involved. "There's an enormous commitment here," says Brannen, "and people feel part of a community at Orkila."
   For the Brannens, the joy of returning each summer comes from the infusion of friendship and caring that they feel at the camp and the spiritual benefits that their participation has brought to their family. "I enjoy watching the children and feeling the spirit that is there," comments Carolyn. "Orkila is a community that cares, and connecting with others is what it's all about." The Brannens were surprised with the recognition bestowed upon them and touched by the fact that they were chosen to be honored together. They have responded to the award by pledging to increase their own commitment to Orkila in the future. "Being involved is very meaningful to us," says Brannen. "Carolyn and I like having a focus that provides long-term continuity of interest in our lives. We can't measure our impact. We just do what the passion dictates and give what we can of ourselves."