Camp HEROs recall experiences


CASSOPOLIS — Gwen Wagner is a HERO for her leadership skills.


“When kids get bullied, I stick up for them,” the Marcellus eighth-grader said Friday at the luncheon following Cass County Youth Council’s first overnight leadership experience April 1-2 at YMCA Camp Eberhart  near Three Rivers.


Gwen, 13, said she didn’t let the high ropes course in the treetops intimidate her.


“I faced my fear of falling. I went up there,” she said, while friend Delaney Borger, watched from below.


“I want to be a nurse or a paleontologist. I like fossils,” Gwen said.


As the baby of the family, Gwen looks for rocks instead of hunting for mushrooms like her college-aged siblings.


Hide-and-go-seek camp style was more threatening to Gwen, who plays flute, runs track and plays volleyball, because she said she is afraid of the dark.


“I didn’t get very far up the rock wall, but I liked it,” said Delaney, who moved to Marcellus from Three Rivers. “I probably would have done the high ropes, but it was really cold. I play clarinet in band and I want to play softball.”


“I don’t find (bullying) a problem,” Delaney said.


Eighth-grader Michael Gregory, the only one of three Dowagiac students able to attend, is interested in a military career, maybe the Marines.


“I’m not really a social person,” the gamer said. “I thought I would like the high ropes course, but my hands were freezing. I’m not scared of heights.”


He most liked archery.


For one game, Have You Ever, they chewed all 15 sticks in a gum package at once.


“It was gross,” Gwen said.


Amy Anderson, an Edwardsburg school board member and director of Southwestern Michigan College’s Educational Talent Search program, and Cass County Deputy Sheriff MaKenzie Kreiner (both wearing “Not all super heroes wear capes” T-shirts), don’t ask students to do anything they don’t try themselves.


During a blind trust walk, Kreiner, who works in Cassopolis and Marcellus schools, was led up and down stairs blindfolded.


Anderson, who is in Dowagiac, Marcellus and Edwardsburg schools, said students recognize Kreiner “and are more apt to go up and talk to her and to go down the hall having a conversation” recalling those shared experiences.


“They not only got new friends in different schools, but they also got to see everybody’s going through the same things and how to make their schools better,” Anderson said.


Friday’s Cass County Youth Council annual child abuse prevention luncheon culminated the last stage of HERO (Helping Everyone Realize Opportunities) in memory of Kristen Schott.


Schott, 37, of Niles, worked for Cass County Friend of the Court and was active with both youth council and CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) before her sudden death Nov. 14, 2004, from a brain aneurysm.


“We hope to keep this going as a legacy to her,” Anderson said.


After camp staff came to their schools and students went to camp, HEROs


Related their experiences at the Cass County Council on Aging, mingling with a roomful of agency officials, including Director Bob Cochrane, Sheriff Joe Underwood, CASA Director Jim Ward, Leigh Feldman of Family Court, Parks Director Scott Wyman, Patricia Adams of Lewis Cass Intermediate School District board from Edwardsburg and Jennifer Fox and Billie Wilson, also of ETS.


“These are your new school leaders, the go-to students,” Anderson introduced them. “They each learned 14 words related to leadership — patience, perseverance, caring, compassion, courage, sense of humor, helpful, flexibility, integrity, growth, resourcefulness and curiosity. We want you to know what awesome youth we have.”


Anderson said they played Sardines.


“You have to try to find someone hiding. When you find them, you hide with them until everyone’s hidden. Micah (Welch) and Amy (Adams, both of Cassopolis) hold the record. We only got through four rounds in two hours. Micah was in a shower and Amy was under a sink and no one could find them. The fun part was to watch them all come together and gel. Also, we watched a movie (“The Avengers”) while they Facebooked each other.”


The Child’s Trust Fund allocates $5,000 to the youth council to diminish child abuse, including bullying.


For the first of three parts, youth council partnered with Camp Eberhart to provide “in-house” camp experience the week of Feb. 26-March 1 in middle schools, where activities centered around anti-bullying, social justice, self esteem, leadership, conflict resolution and digital bullies.


With 168 Dowagiac sixth-graders, 175 Marcellus seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders plus senior boys, 600 Edwardsburg sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and 100 Cassopolis seventh- and eighth-graders, the effort reached 1,200 students in four days.


In part two, school counselors identified six students — three boys, three girls — per middle school to camp. Youth council aims to offer this program annually to every middle school in the county during spring break.


Youth council may sponsor a golf outing or a run to boost its visibility.


Its next meeting will be at noon May 17 at a location to be determined.


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