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Upper Columbia grad finds resilience through leadership

Joelle Townsend is photographed at the edge of the quiet campus of Upper Columbia Academy near Spangle, Wash., on May 13, 2020. Townsend will attend Walla Walla University, hoping to double major in secondary education and English. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Joelle Townsend is photographed at the edge of the quiet campus of Upper Columbia Academy near Spangle, Wash., on May 13, 2020. Townsend will attend Walla Walla University, hoping to double major in secondary education and English. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
By Arcelia Martin For The Spokesman-Review

She’s a villager.

According to Joelle Townsend, there are two types of students at Upper Columbia Academy, the Seventh Day Adventist boarding school tucked away along the Palouse.

There are dorm students who stay on campus, and villagers like Townsend, local students who commute to campus every day.

Townsend grew up in Spokane, dreaming of attending UCA. She and her family would attend talent shows and other events at the boarding school, piquing her interest in the community of students.

“I would see all of them and they honestly just were such people of God, and they had so much life, and they’re doing so many fun things together,” Townsend said.

After a challenging eighth-grade year at Palisades Christian Academy, she was desperate to move somewhere new. But ninth and 10th grades offered her a new light.

Townsend chose to focus on the words of one of her freshman-year teachers, who told her to seize the opportunities in front of her.

Teachers from both Palisades Christian Academy and UCA, where she studied for the past two years, encouraged her to become involved.

And she found resilience. She was able to find a community that highlighted her abilities and helped her to put them to use.

“They definitely taught me so much about how to be a leader and how to be responsible,” the 18-year-old said. “So honestly, I look at my eighth-grade self and I’m like, ‘Shoot, who was she?’ But now here we are.”

For Townsend’s longtime teacher, Judy Castrejón, her resilience came as no surprise.

Castrejón was diagnosed with uterine cancer during Townsend’s fifth-grade year, a battle Townsend was familiar with, as her grandmother had died from cancer earlier that year.

Castrejón took time away from school that winter to address her medical concerns, but was never alone.

“She just talked to me, and nurtured me, as a fifth-grader,” Castrejón said.

Townsend not only called her teacher and wrote to her, but gathered letters from all the other students, so Castrejón could have two or three letters at a time as she was recuperating.

“If you ask anybody, Joelle is one of those that you can run to at any time,” Castrejón said. “And she will drop everything that she’s doing. And you are her main focus. She’s just that type of a person. … People are very much her love language.”

Next year, Townsend plans to attend Walla Walla University, where she can continue her faith education. The university’s student-led masses were a huge draw for Townsend, as she could participate as a worship leader.

“Getting down to good music and good fellowship together, and just the community that you can get from being with those people is so cool. I love it,” Townsend said.

The UCA graduate led worship for the first time when she was a sixth-grader. A friend of her mother’s, who doubled as her piano instructor, gave her the opportunity to put the mass together and she loved it.

Townsend is planning to study English and secondary education with a minor in psychology, with hopes of one day becoming a high school counselor. After spending a week with a counselor at Freeman High School, Townsend had found a job that she admired.

“I hope that I give off a spirit of just being passionate about what I do, doing everything full-heartedly,” Townsend said. “Just kind of having a passion for people. … I like to live out loud and live with joy.”

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