Operation Snowball returns to overnight retreat


MORNING TRADITIONS: senior Abbey Goddard and juniors Gina Liu, Fiona Doyle, Jenna Soelberg, Malini Fisher, and Maggie Cummins sing together for participants before breakfast.

Sophie Michaels, News Editor

Nov. 11, students packed an overnight bag and gathered on a bus to YMCA Camp Duncan for the biannual Operation Snowball retreat. Due to the pandemic, however, Operation Snowball has not been an overnight retreat since winter of 2020. Amidst the pandemic, the Snowball retreat still happened, it just looked slightly different. From Zoom small groups and social distanced gatherings in 2020 to a one day masked retreat in 2021, the program is excited to put together the first overnight retreat post-pandemic. 

Senior Abbey Goddard is a director this year. In this position, she runs workshops, helps leaders, and makes sure everything goes smoothly. 

“Now that we have returned to an overnight retreat, there are so many more activities, like speakers, workshops, and the petting zoo. Mostly, I’m so happy that small groups have more time together to bond and get to know each other better,” Goddard said.

Activities included two speakers, Nadine Machkovech from Rise Together and Amy Liss. Both speakers focus on gratitude and acknowledging that no one is alone. Additionally, with more time at camp, participants have more time to do camp-like activities. This fall, there was a petting zoo, low ropes course, and scavenger hunt. 

With the variety of activities being offered and brought back at the retreat, the number of leaders and participants can return to normal. The past 2 years have brought a decrease in participants, as the program had to lose some traditions. 

“I think people are slow to jump back into everything they used to do. I would say that since Snowball, just like everything else, has been modified, or quieter, it will take some time to build up to where things were. Last winter we might’ve been able to go overnight, but I just don’t think people would’ve been ready for it,” Student Assistance Coordinator Keith Bullock said. “It was just your mindset of where things were at and people’s comfort level with COVID-19 and people are feeling like ‘okay we’re living with this now, let’s get our kids and ourselves back into some of these things we would normally be doing anyway.’”

This year, the retreat had an estimated number of 110 participants signing up out of 150 open spots. As the retreat builds back normalcy post-pandemic, so does the number of participants. 

“COVID definitely decreased numbers for Snowball, we used to have 150-200 participants,” Counselor Kevin Leslie said.  

2023 Seniors were the only participants that were able to experience an overnight retreat before the pandemic. Because of this, leaders that are now juniors are going into Snowball without having been overnight participants in the past. 

“I’m so excited for this retreat especially because the overnight allows us to connect with our small group more,” junior and first time leader Fiona Doyle said. “I am a little nervous, though, since my first Snowball was just one day. I don’t really know what to expect, but I love this program, so I know it will be great.”

The name Operation Snowball expresses the idea that if one person can create a positive impact on another, and that person can do the same, the impact snowballs into something larger. The program highlights creating a safe space to be oneself, and values mental health awareness and living a drug and alcohol free lifestyle. 

“There is this energy that no one is judging anyone, and you can be yourself fully,” Director Mimi Loftus said.