Meeting and mastering challenges goal of Summer Girls Club

Carlene Anders said the point of the Summer Girls Club is to throw out a challenge.

"I really want them to be able to stand up tall, and stand up proud and say, 'I can do it,'" she said. Helping them learn how to do it involves both physical and mental challenges, ranging from an overnight campout in the mountains to recycling, a 15-mile bike trip to cooking and serving dinner for 70 people.

This is the second year for the summer girls club, which is designed for girls about eight to 12 years of age, often called "tweens." Carlene Anders and her husband Gene Dowers, of Pateros, have a tween daughter, and she is very familiar with the movies, television shows, music and internet surfing available to tweens. And she didn't like some of it very much.

It didn't encourage or inspire, Carlene said, and in her opinion some of it didn't show very good leadership models for girls. The Summer Girls Club is designed to show girls new things, sometimes things that are hard to do, and encourage them to meet and beat those challenges.

There were 14 girls in Summer Girls Club 2008, and there was an extra challenge as well, at least for the leader. Carlene and Gene spent the month of July rowing the Columbia and Snake rivers from the Canadian border to the boathouse for the Washington State University rowing team, south of Pullman.

The Summer Girls Club throws challenges at its participants, physical challenges like learning to paddle a kayak, mental challenges like discussions about body image-and challenges that fall somewhere in between. The girls met every Monday afternoon from mid-June to last week; there were six Wednesday activities and one Saturday as well.

The girls met every Monday out by the apple tree in the backyard. They read books-there were 40 titles to choose from, abridged literary classics along with every girl's favorite detective Nancy Drew-kept journals, talked about social skills, body image, other topics that are important to girls. They made walking stones and worked on art and craft projects. But there was more.

Carlene tossed in a little education, in a fun way; for the finale, the girls toured McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma. They got the equivalent of a mission briefing, went up in the control tower, experienced the flight simulator, walked through a C-17.

One Wednesday afternoon in July the girls rode their bikes from Pateros to Bridgeport State Park, about 15 miles, for an overnight campout. Sometimes challenges come out of the blue; Carlene and Gene were on their rowing trip and met up with the girls at the park, had dinner, bedded down for the night. And at about 2 a.m. the sprinklers came on, right in the middle of the encampment. The girls were split between two tents, one holding eight girls, and when the sprinklers shut down "the one with eight girls had standing water," Carlene said. So the girls and chaperones had to find dry clothes and a dry place to sleep in the middle of the night.

The girls learned how to paddle and navigate kayaks and paddled their way from the Methow River shore to the islands out in midstream and back. They went swimming at Pateros' swimming beach. And they went on a hike-not just any little hike in the hills around Pateros. No. This was a serious hike, up in the back country.

They walked about four miles in along the Twisp River Trail; they camped overnight and visited Stiletto Falls on a day hike before hiking the four miles back out. "That was quite a bit of a challenge," Carlene said. That trail was pretty steep; the girls packed in all their equipment and food, and packed their equipment and garbage back out.

Each girl was asked to carry up to 30 percent of her body weight. (Everybody got weighed to determine how much each girl could carry, Carlene said. Anders and fellow chaperone Melanie Williams packed the excess.) They carried in their food and charcoal to help cook it. (One girl learned it's a good idea to look at the label on the soup can; when she opened her pack she discovered she'd picked up cream of celery soup, Carlene said.) They packed in their sleeping bags and built the fire. "It was a tough hike," Carlene said. "I was so proud of them."

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