San Mar youth travel to Rockies

July 05, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

BOONSBORO - The seventeen-year-old girl could hardly contain her excitement over the prospect of spending eight days at an adventure camp in the Rockies.

But first, the San Mar Children's Home resident would have to get past the thrill of being on an airplane for the first time in her young life.

"And I'm going to have my 18th birthday on the trip too," she said.

Another girl, also 17, not only had never flown before, she has never even been to an airport. After that, the camp probably would seem mild.

"I'm hoping to have a spiritual experience ... to see God's work," she said.

The young women's names are not being published to protect their privacy.

A group of 10 girls and three San Mar staff members embarked on this adventure June 30 and are to return on July 8.


The idea for the trip came last summer when San Mar Administrator Bruce Anderson was in Colorado, riding his bicycle in the Rocky Mountains.

"I wanted to see if I could do it," Anderson said. It took him 2 1/2 hours to reach the top of Independence Pass, elevation 12,000 feet.

In the process, Anderson said, he realized he could not see past the mountain.

Literally and figuratively, he said he couldn't imagine what it would be like going down the other side, or what it would be like standing on the top.

"When I got to the top I felt as if I could see forever," Anderson said. "It dawned on me that many of the kids I work with faced similar mountains that they could not see beyond."

Just as he had decided to do something he had never done, Anderson came home determined to send a group of girls from San Mar to an adventure camp in the Rockies.

San Mar Children's Home on Mapleville Road is for adolescent girls who have experienced family problems and/or abuse.

The Washington County Gaming Commission gave Anderson some funds for plane fare and camp registrations. But more was needed for luggage, hiking shoes and socks, sleeping bags and the like.

The money for those needs came from a series of small donations in memory of Steve Lenhart, an avid bicyclist who died earlier this year. He had been a resident of San Mar as a child and Anderson said he and his wife had wanted any memorial donations to go to San Mar.

"I met with Steve's wife, Connie, and told her that we would like to dedicate the trip to Colorado to Steve, if she approved," Anderson said. With tears in her eyes, she did approve.

A third 17-year-old said she understood they would be sleeping in cabins or on the mountains. She, too, was a first-time flyer.

On Independence Day, the group was scheduled to hike a peak called American Flag, Anderson said.

"I'm outdoorsy but not like this," said another 17-year-old girl, who said she understood the altitude is different where they are going.

She said she couldn't believe San Mar was doing this for her and the others.

"I call San Mar home but I never thought I'd get to do something like this," she said.

Exercise and fun are high on one 18-year-old's list as she embarks on this trip. "But I'm not big on bugs," she said.

Although only 15, another girl said she is used to flying but she's never been on a trip like this.

"I grew up in a city - it will be a new experience being in the mountains," she said.

Excitement among the staff also was high.

Rachel Hawkins, medical coordinator at the group home, said she jumped at the chance.

"I ran hikes when I worked in Prince George's County," Hawkins said. "I also got to do Outward Bound and I know what it can do for you."

Melissa Wettstein, assistant case manager, often takes San Mar girls on outings but never overnight or three-fourths of the way across the country. But she said she was ready.

Brenda Benner, part-time direct care worker, said she knew she wanted to go when she heard the work kayak.

"I kayak a lot," Benner said.

It will be fun, it will challenging and as Hawkins put it, the trip could have some future rewards.

"We're planting seeds here," she said. "This is a big step for these girls."

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