Attending the National Family, Career, and Community Leaders of American Leadership Conference is an opportunity for FCCLA high school students across the country to grow as youth leaders, address personal, family, work and societal issues and find solutions through family and consumer sciences education.

And in the case of some Mitchell FCCLA students in attendance, it was a chance to experience a natural disaster first hand.

Julie Platt, Chloe Holzwarth, Ireland Blindauer and Jayli Rients, members of the Mitchell FCCLA Chapter, along with their adviser Suzanne Skinner, were among 70 middle and high school students from South Dakota who traveled to Anaheim, California June 30 to July 4 to attend the conference. And while they enjoyed a successful time on the West Coast, with all four earning gold ratings for their presentations, they also got to feel the effects of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike the state in more than a decade.

Rients, who will be a freshman at Mitchell High School, said she experienced the 6.4 magnitude quake that hit about 10:33 a.m. local time at their hotel in Anaheim on July 4. The conference had gone well until that day, Rients said.

“(The conference) was actually really fun. I met a lot of new friends, and me and my partner (Blindauer) did a focus on children,” Rients said.

And then, Thursday morning, July 4, something suddenly felt different in her hotel room.

“I was just sitting on the bed in the hotel room on the 15th floor, and I look up and there are lights shaking and spinning in circles,” Rients said. “It felt like the whole hotel was shaking back and forth.”

It took a moment for her to realize what was going on, she said.

“I didn’t really know what it was at first, and then I realized it was an earthquake,” she said.

The earthquake was centered near Ridgecrest, California, located 159 miles north of Anaheim, but was strong enough that it caused damage to property and was felt throughout the southern portion of the state. The July 4 earthquake, which was followed by an even stronger aftershock of 7.1 on July 5, had even California residents, largely seasoned to earthquakes, on edge. The July 4 quake was at the time the largest earthquake centered in southern California since 1999.

Rients said her perception of the earthquake was probably enhanced by the fact that she was in a high-rise building.

It was over in a matter of seconds, she said, but it made a strong impression.

“Yeah, it (made me nervous), just a little bit,” Rients said.

Julia Platt, who will be a sophomore at Mitchell High School, agreed that the conference was a positive experience despite the July 4 shaking.

“We saw Disneyland and went to an aquarium," Platt said. "And we also got to go through workshops and many educational experiences, and for me, a leadership academy."

She said she was also in her hotel room when the quake hit, and the experience started off as a feeling of disorientation.

“I was actually in the hotel room, brushing my teeth getting ready for the day. You felt like you were light-headed a little bit. It was a weird sensation,” Platt said. “And then we figured it out. When we saw our curtains moving, we knew something was up.”

Platt said the hotel staff later shut down the elevator in case an aftershock occurred, forcing her to climb 17 flights to visit another conference attendee’s room, but the elevator was soon back in order and there was no damage from the quake evident where the Mitchell group was staying.

“I’d say it was quite surprising. I’ve never been through an earthquake before. It was a little nerve-wracking,” said Platt, whose Mitchell group departed for home before the July 5 aftershock hit.

The earthquake was an unusual experience, to be sure, Rients said. But she said it wouldn’t stop her from traveling to take part in future FCCLA events, which she said has been a highly rewarding experience.

“It’s a good experience. You learn so much about leadership and it makes you so much more confident. I used to be a really shy person and now I’m out of my box a little bit,” Rients said.

The four Mitchell FCCLA students in attendance received gold ratings at the conference. Platt presented her Environmental Ambassador project portfolio with a 10-minute oral presentation about starting composting with the culinary arts class at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. Holzwarth made a presentation titled Step Up To The Plate and competed in Chapter In Review Display, where she shared nine categories for a well-rounded chapter in a 15-minute oral presentation. Blindauer and Rients worked with an after-school program to promote reading, prepared a display for their Focus on Children project, gave a 10-minute oral presentation to the judges and then answered questions.