Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Taking city girls into the woods

So, I'm behind on my Summer Blog Challenge posts again. Oh, well.  Here's my contribution to the prompt, "July 28- When was the last time you "roughed it"?" (Hey, I provided the prompt, I better answer it!).

Well, rather than talk about the last time, I'm going to talk about an interesting one.  I was a Girl Scout growing up, from Brownies all the way through Senior Scouts (high school).  By the time I was in high school, the local council would occasionally call me up and ask if I wanted to be a volunteer at different scouting events.  One spring, they asked me to be a camp counselor for a special Girl Scout camp.

Several Girl Scout troops were attending camp for their first camp experience ever.  They were all 3rd, 4th and 5th graders from the same Detroit elementary school.  The girls had participated in a program during the year funded by a grant intended to improve the lives of inner city kids.  Part of the program included enrolling every girl in the program in scouts (the boys were enrolled in Boy Scouts).  At the end of the school year, they got to attend a week-long Girl Scout camp.  All of the Girl Scout leaders were moms of the girls (as is common), but few (if any) had any camp experience.   

This meant that we, the teenage camp counselors, were more "in charge" than ever.  We had to ensure these girls had a good first camp experience.

Little did we know the preconceived notions that these girls would bring about camping!  These included...
  • A girl who convinced her entire troop that mosquitoes would kill them.  Once night fell, the girls became a gaggle of screaming banshees. 
  • A leader informed us that her girls were experiencing a new sense of freedom in the woods.  After being reassured that there were no boys at the camp, several of the girls stripped down naked and ran through the camp.  She was having a hard time convincing the girls that there was a good reason to put their clothes back on!
  • Many of the girls were convinced that horses were demon-monsters from another world.  Horseback riding is a tried-and-true activity of Girl Scout camp.  An activity that most scouts anticipate with great joy.  And Girl Scout camp horses are some of the tamest horses around.  Just get on the horse, and he/she follows the horse in front down the trail; very little leading is required. However, we had a hard convincing these girls that the horses were not going to eat them alive!  We only talked about 1/3 of the girls into getting onto the horses and taking a short trail ride.
As a teenager, this experience had a big impression on me.  I was surprised and saddened by how limited these girls' experiences had been.  Some of them had never been out of the city of Detroit before this camping trip. The camp had a controlled chaos atmosphere; a traditional scout camp has ritual and tradition to keep everything in order.  But the girls were really soaking in new experiences by the minute.

On the second day, the head of the camp said that one of the girls was being moved in with us camp counselors in the main lodge.  The girl had asthma but came with no medication.  The camp tried to contact her parents, but had no luck.  Rather than have her walking the trails all day and risk an asthma attack with no rescue inhaler, we decided to keep her up at the main lodge were most of the activities (and the meals) took place.  She was sweet and quiet;  she warmed up to us after a day or so, and we "adopted" her as a "junior" camp counselor.  We tried to make her feel extra special since we knew she felt like she might be missing out.

I don't know if this program continued, but I hope it did.  I think the experience was invaluable for these girls.

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