By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A pair of friendly, caring adult arms encircles the shoulders of a hurt and angry young child, offering silent encouragement.
A counselor quickly stops a scuffle between two 9-year-olds and reminds them of other ways to solve their dispute.
A team of campers executes harrowing climbs of 40-foot towers and shaky walks along ropes 30 or 40 feet above ground, shedding tears of fright and joy while people trained in the operation of adventure programming monitor them from below.
What? All of these scenes are part of Camp Challenge, a six-week program that uses recreation and games to teach cooperation, goal achievement, self-esteem and rule following to 7- to 12-year-olds. In addition to the physical activities, daily individual and small group counseling helps children learn to deal with feelings about and reactions to issues of family, friends and self.
Despite the tears, rules, challenges and lofty goals, the kids seem genuinely to enjoy the experience.
"No, I want down. Lord Jesus, help me," said Jermaine Hudson, who completed his rope challenge and later in the session was helping and encouraging others.
"I know I'm going to fall, I just know it," said Dy'Reshia Chapman, who overcame her fear to finish the multivine challenge.
The high adventure ropes course is a nontraditional group therapy that tests the children physically and forces them to depend on one another and accomplish more than they believed they could.
Jermaine, who overcame his fear of heights, said he had a good time and made some new friends.
Who? The camp is staffed by counselors, special education teachers and mental health professionals who plan and carry out therapeutic recreational activities.
Camp Challenge is operated by D & amp;E Counseling Center. Major funding is provided by the Mahoning County Board of Mental Health, Mahoning County United Way, Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, Mahoning County commissioners, and the Children's Circle of Friends Foundation. Also, Toys "R" Us provided a grant for a Good Behavior Store, where children attending the camp can trade points, earned by reaching goals, for toys.
The ultimate goal is for the skills and ideas learned by the kids at Camp Challenge to carry over into their interaction with their families, schools and communities, said Joe Shorokey, D & amp;E outpatient director.
"It's surprising how long the impact of the camp lasts," he said.
He said a lot of work is done with the kids' families, including a mentoring program staffed by parents of other kids in therapy.
The kids and their families are not the only ones who benefit from the camp. Camp staff members find it very satisfying to watch the children develop.
Two such staff members are college students Megan Getchey of Poland and Jill Ferguson of Columbiana.
"I love working with the kids. The first day they come, they are all negative. You don't see a sudden change, but by the end of the six weeks, you see something positive," Ferguson said. She is a special education and psychology major at Toledo University.
"The way they talk to each other and work together and encourage each other changes. One of the big things we do is get them to push themselves even though they are scared," Getchey said. She is studying early childhood and special education at Bowling Green State University.
The two buildings at Camp Challenge, located at Wilkinson Avenue and McCollum Road at the edge of Mill Creek Park, were recently outfitted with heat and air conditioning systems. The goal now is to secure the resources to develop an after-school program to go along with the summer camp.