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Passport to Fun and Challenge
With proper assistance and a can-do attitude, groups are bidding farewell to their comfort zones and embarking on amazing challenges.
Does the thought of dangling from a high-ropes harness make you reach for smelling salts? Have you witnessed teens cry at the thought of leaving behind their make-up as they set out on a primitive camping trip? Have you seen adults break into cold sweats as they hand over the troop's savings to 12-year-old accountants?
Call it fear of the unknown, or simply leaving your comfort zone. Or look at it as Laura Plaut does. A former Outward Bound instructor and professor of adventure education at Prescott College in Arizona, Laura defines adventure broadly as "any activity in which the outcome is uncertain."
Laura, who has worked with many Girl Scouts, focuses on physically demanding activities: rock climbing, high ropes, hiking, and wilderness experiences that "require we be fully present in our bodies." Her goal is to place these activities squarely within an individual's comfort zone.
For many, non-physical adventures, too, can be lassoed into the comfort zone. Navigate a confusing mass transit system in another country and you'll own it. Get really stinky in the outback and you'll realize you can survive without eyeliner. Let girls actually pay restaurant and hotel bills and you'll discover you've taught them well—especially when they ask for and get discounts. Laura believes that adventure, as she studies and teaches it, "is as much a state of mind, a readiness to risk in the name of fun and learning, as it is any particular activity."
For Something Completely Different…
Dee Ebersole-Boukouzis, Sports and Fitness Consultant at GSUSA, calls her first high-ropes course "a life-changing experience. It helped me take risks and face challenges in other areas of my life as well." Dee, who has led adventure programs for groups of juvenile offenders, says, "I've seen firsthand how physical challenges set the stage to expand horizons for young people. They begin to wonder if there are other things in their lives they thought they couldn't do that they can." Another bonus: these challenging trips can lead to other demanding, yet satisfying adventures.
Taking Greater Risks
The idea that triumphing over a physical challenge can inspire greater risk-taking pervades the Timbers Girl Scout Camp in Michigan, run by Girl Scouts Fair Winds Council. Abby Wattenberg, Director of Outdoor Education, explains why adventure activities such as high-ropes courses, skiing, and scuba diving are often coupled with entrepreneurship programs at the camp: "It's all about pushing yourself and taking risks. Physical awareness and mental openess go hand-in-hand."
Paula, a volunteer in Sooner Girl Scout Council, Oklahoma, has taken seven international trips with Girl Scouts over the past 30 years. Many have thrilling outdoor components: climbing a glacier and white-water rafting in Canada and primitive camping and canyon hiking in Australia's outback. But Paula considers getting to and traveling around a foreign country high adventure, too. Does travel to London have the same cachet as a scuba-diving trip? "Absolutely," says Paula. "It's important to counter parochialism by showing girls our ties with the rest of the world. To some, that's more frightening than heights, rough water, or bears!"
Practice What You Preach
"Adults who are willing to learn with girls and make mistakes help dilute girls' feelings of 'everybody's watching me mess up,' " says Sarah Resch, Director of Camp Ehawee, a Girl Scout adventure camp run by the Girl Scouts of Riverland Council in Wisconsin. "An adult who puts a bridle upside down on a horse takes the heat off a girl who's doing the same thing—as long as there's another adult around who is thoroughly knowledgeable."
Even if you choose not to step into the proverbial ring, your words of encouragement, assistance, and attitude can make or break an opportunity for a girl.
Girl Scout Nora, 13, from the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital has canoed, rock climbed, negotiated ropes courses, and winter camped, and she's very clear that it's adults who encouraged her: "They're great because they get as excited about the activities as we do."
Eileen, a girl member of the Backpacking Interest Group (B.I.G.) of Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County, appreciates the hands-off attitude that the adult advisors of B.I.G. take.
"They try to let us figure things out on our own and only give us clues to help us reach the finish line." For instance, when Eileen's group wanted to climb a huge cliff last summer, after teaching the girls how to climb safely, one of the leaders accompanied them only half way up. When they reached the top, Eileen described feeling even more exhilarated, because they'd done it alone. "Instead of just following orders, we figured it out for ourselves, and the way to do it has been burned into our bodies and minds." For more about B.I.G., go to http://home.earthlink.net/~girlscoutbackpacking/.
Do I Have to Try It?
Of course you don't have to go surfing or snowboarding with girls, but don't be a wet blanket either. "Even if you don't want to do an activity, don't discount its importance to girls," emphasizes Abby Wattenberg.
"Attitude is everything," notes Marie Bienkowski, an advisor for the B.I.G. Interest Group of Santa Clara, who has helped 13- and 14-year-old girls acquire skills to master an eight-day wilderness trip. The going can get tough for everyone on these trips and Marie suggests adults consider their personal responses to "comfort zone challenges." "How are you reacting to the rock climbing, the spilled food, the midnight rain, the hard hike?" she asked. "If you were less than perfect in your performance, did you say, 'That taught me something about next time?'"
The Three P's
Professionals—get their advice and adhere to it. They'll help you control your environment so that "high risk" becomes perception rather than reality. Always find qualified, top professionals to coach, guide, and inspire girls. When in doubt about a person or agency's qualifications, check with your local council.
Many Girl Scout councils offer high-adventure activities at local camps where you can go as a group or where girls can attend as individuals. To access the Girl Scout listing, go to the destinations section.
Project an image of yourself doing the activity and focus on your positive actions in response to any problems. Even if you're not doing the activity yourself, use this approach with the girls you're advising.
Progression is a key Girl Scout educational principle and one reflected in the Outward Bound motto: "You try, you learn, you grow." For five years, Harmony, 17, (Girl Scouts Fair Winds), has been refining her canoeing skills. This year she used them while white-water rafting on the Wolf and Flambeau rivers in Wisconsin. She says, "The more we practiced, the better we got, until no one tipped."
Remember to consult Safety-Wise, the Girl Scout guide for all approved Girl Scout activities, written and reviewed by respected professionals.
Adapted from LEADER, Fall 2003. © Girl Scouts of the United States of America.