Editor’s note: Senior Reporter and Digital News Specialist Jennifer Huberdeau knows the Northern Berkshire ROPES Summer Program well through her work writing about it for the Transcript. However, in this article, she shares her newest experience with the program: Being a parent of one of the campers.
NORTH ADAMS -- A crowd of onlookers gathered as a 11-year-old Chloe Martel perched on a wooden ledge 55 feet above them. Suddenly, she jumped into the air, soaring over their heads as she demonstrated the zip-line at the Northern Berkshire ROPES Summer Program on Friday.
A few seconds and a 250-foot descent later, Chloe was beaming while the group of parents and family members turned their attention to another demonstration.
Prior to the demonstration of elements in the Gerald Downing Ropes Course within Historic Valley Campground, about 100 campers and mentors -- previous campers who now serve as helpers -- were honored with a graduation ceremony at the campground pavilion.
This was the first year that the camp, which has traditionally been free-of-charge, asked for a donation of $50 to attend.
"The program took a little bit of a stumble this year financially, but we live in an area that is incredible," North Adams Police Lt. David Sacco said during the ceremony. "When we kind of put our hearts on our sleeves, it was incredible how the community stepped up and came together to make sure that
Outgoing Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco praised the numerous volunteers from local police, fire and ambulance services for their efforts and time.
"Without their dedication this thing wouldn’t happen," he said. "We thank those parents who made donations, but a large majority of the money came from the efforts and the sacrifices they have made."
Over the years, I’ve watched similar displays on the vertical challenges at the Gerald Downing Ropes Course while visiting the program on assignment, but this was the first that I’ve attended as a parent -- my 11-year-old daughter Michaela was one of the dozens of local school children attending the week-long program this month. A second week will be held in August.
Over the last week, I’ve gained a new perspective and respect for the camp, which was founded in 1996 with DARE program grant funds secured by the late Berkshire District Attorney Gerald Downing. As a visitor to the program, I had learned about the team-building skills that are taught, seen children challenge themselves as they braved the high ropes elements and often listened to past campers -- now mentors -- talk about the impact a single week had on their lives. But I never realized how honest those stories were, until Michaela became part of the program.
On the very first day, she jumped into our car and began gushing about trust-building exercises and a few of her experiences on the low ropes course elements.
"I think the FBI might have come today," she said, referring to a visit by the Berkshire County Special Response Team. "We had a demonstration by these officers in black uniforms with large guns. They mostly go after people who are armed and threatening people."
But the real excitement came Wednesday and Thursday, as the camp began the high ropes course. Having seen the height of the elements and knowing my daughter, I didn’t expect to hear that she’d braved many of them. But Thursday, to my shock, she proudly announced that not only had she completed the zip-line, but that she’d done it twice.
On Friday, during the demonstrations, one of her team leaders, Bob LeClair, approached me and asked me to explain something to him.
"Can you tell me how she can only do half of this element on one day and on the next day, come in and climb 55 feet into the air, which is much higher than this, and do the zip-line not once, but twice?" he asked, pointing above to Carrie’s Climb -- a rope suspended between two trees that campers skirt across while hanging on to a guide rope.
I looked at Michaela and asked the same thing.
"This one is too shaky. I didn’t feel safe," she said. "On the zip line, it’s just straight up a tree. There’s a facilitator up there. I knew I was going to be safe, just as I knew I would be safe on the big tire swing."
It was then that I knew that she had formed bonds with some of the staff and mentors and was willing to trust them. Later she spoke affectionately about a mentor named Ian, who spent the week working with her and even took the time to confide in her about his own fear of heights.
"He made me feel good about myself," she said. "I also liked that people couldn’t make fun of me if I didn’t want to do something or quit half-way because I was scared. Everyone had to respect each other, no matter what."
And that’s one of the premises behind the camp -- Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-esteem (ROPES).
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