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Sue Bush
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R.O.P.E.S. Camp in Full Swing

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, July 19, 2005

R.O.P.E.S. facilitators Joseph Charon and Amalio Jusino, both police officers, offer encouragement to a camper facing a tire challenge.
View Slide Show
North Adams – About 80 Northern Berkshire Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education curriculum graduates are “on the ropes” this week at Windsor Lake, and the consensus is unanimous: they are loving every minute of it.

The Respecting Other People Encouraging Self-esteem Camp brings Northern Berkshire law enforcement officers, teachers, teen-aged mentors, and youth between ages 10-12 together for a week of skill-building, communication, and exercises in trust. Teamwork is a foundation of the program, as are activities that involve use of “low ropes,” meaning set close to the ground, and “high ropes,” meaning challenges that are tackled at increased heights.

Six teams are participating during this camp session. The teams wear different colored shirts and have given themselves names: “Gray Test,” “Red Rockets,” “Blue Man Group,” “Gang Green,” “Mighty Tigers,” and “Marshmallows.”

The five-day session replaced a D.A.R.E. camp that ceased operations when state funding for the program was lost. This marks the third year of the “ropes camp.” The camp is free, requires pre-registration, and a second session will be offered in August.

With A Little Help From Their Friends

On July 19, teams spent the morning working on the “elements,” with the help of mentors [former R.O.P.E.S. campers] and police officer, teacher, and adult volunteer “facilitators.” Activities using swinging tires, swinging ropes, and a multi-colored rope tangle called a “spider web” got underway at about 10:30 a.m., and campers put the program philosophy into action.

An element involving four swinging tires required posting “spotters” near each tire as campers maneuvered themselves from one tire to another. The goal is to figure out how to complete the tire course by relying on facilitator, mentor, and camper encouragement. While completing the exercise, campers must devise their own strategies for getting from one swinging tire to another.

Cheshire police Officer Joseph Charon told the campers that the task required “teamwork, technique, and safety.” Prior to beginning the challenge, campers must ask “Spotters, can I trust you?,” and the spotters must answer in the affirmative.

Colton Andrews, 14, is a mentor and said that he believes in the camp mission.

“I like having the responsibility of being a mentor,” he said. “I like being able to help the other kids.”

Learning to Trust

Trust exercises are conducted before the challenges begin, and help the campers develop relationships with each other. Campers from the Northern Berkshires are eligible to attend the camp and teams are established as a “mix,” meaning that many team members are not acquainted before camp begins.

The pre-activity dialogue, called “commands,” are an integral part of the program; during a challenge called “Prouty’s Landing,” a camper forgot to articulate the commands and the exercise was stopped and then started again from the beginning.
Successful completion of challenges builds self-esteem and fosters an awareness of teamwork and communication, according to campers and facilitators.

Swinging across a mulched area is part of a "Prouty's Landing" R.O.P.E.S. camp challenge.
Andrew Varuzzo, 12, of North Adams, said that the trust exercises and the challenges are effective.

“At first, it was more difficult but now [trusting team members] is easy,” he said. “It’s easier because we’ve been [doing the trust exercises]. This is my first time at camp and I’m enjoying it. One thing, though, you can’t be afraid to get dirty.”

The program also allows youth to interact with law enforcement officers and teachers in a non-confrontational manner, and that, in turn, leads to developing positive relationships.


Included in the sessions is a game that requires facilitators to write a “crazy” anecdote about a true-life experience. North Adams police Officer John LeClair read the short stories aloud, then asked the campers to guess which facilitator experienced the event. Among the stories was an account from someone who lost their house keys and used a chainsaw to get in the front door [North Adams police Officer Fran Maruco], an individual who has danced on a restaurant table [North Adams police Sgt. Bill Baker], and a person who drove a NASCAR race car in Loudon, N.H. [North Adams police Lt. David Sacco]. Campers also learned that Silvio O. Conte Middle School teacher Jim Holmes has held a black belt in karate for 30 years.

Holmes talked about the camp benefits.

“This is a level playing field,” he said. “Everyone is the same and it can be humbling for some of the kids who seem to always be good at everything.”

After a lunch break, the teams competed against each other during a mini “fireman’s muster,” which incorporated scaled-down versions of popular firefighter games.

Williamstown police Officer Amalio Jusino said that the campers develop a sense of camaraderie rather than clique.

“I’ve been very impressed that I have seen no name-calling, no picking on anyone,” he said. “And this is a great opportunity to interact with kids.”

North Adams police Officer Stephen Deane said that parents are usually pleased with what the camp provides to the campers.

“I spoke just yesterday with a parent who was amazed at what we give the kids; a snack, a lunch, two shirts for the week,” he said. “And we are free, which I don’t believe too many camps are anymore.”

Pulling It All Together

LeClair and Maruco noted that city officials such as Mayor John Barrett III, North Adams Public Schools Superintendent James Montepare, police Director Michael Cozzaglio, Northern Berkshire police chiefs, and numerous police officers are committed to offering the camp on a yearly basis.

“Mayor Barrett, Mr. Montepare, people like Fran Maruco, and all the Northern Berkshire chiefs, they are the people that keep this going,” LeClair said.

Camp preparations begin in January, with the printing of registration forms. In March, the registration forms are distributed to eligible campers, and that alone is a big project, because of the logistics of getting the forms to each community and then to the students, LeClair said.

North Adams police dispatchers David Burdick, Dennis Tuper and Laurie Tuper type and fold the registration forms, and stamp the mailing envelopes, LeClair said.

“If it wasn’t for Dave, Dennis, and Laurie, and the work they do, things would be very, very hard,” he said.

The facilitators must agree to spend their days at the camp, and police chiefs must try to schedule police shifts accordingly, LeClair said.

“This is the highest point of the year for vacations, and here are all these chiefs, working with us for this camp,” he said.

Ropes must be inspected and certified as safe every year before camp begins and the ropes must be replaced periodically. The city donates the use of Windsor Lake, and this year, for the first time since the camp began, participating communities were asked to help with snacks and lunches. Each community agreed to seek donations, and numerous restaurants and businesses stepped forward to help, LeClair said.

“There’s just so much to this, and people are so committed to doing this for the kids,” he said.

Sacco has been very involved in the camp and said that he is pleased with the program and the community support.

“We are happy with things the way they are,” he said.

Campers dive into a pile of firemen's gear during a firefighter muster-style "Midnight Alarm" event.

A camp graduation and picnic is scheduled for July 22. Parents are invited to attend.

Maruco said that the camp experience may impact different youth in different ways, but he believes one result is a sure thing.

“The one thing that is a for sure thing is that these kids will leave with memories that they will never forget,” he said.

A multi-photograph R.O.P.E.S. slideshow will be posted at www.iberkshires.com during the upcoming week.

Susan Bush may be reached by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.
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