Friday, July 23, 2004

RiverTrek offers teens outdoors 'rite of passage'

Breaks down stereotypes, helps build relationships

By Meagan Pollnow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

On Monday, 30 Greater Cincinnati teenagers will canoe in the wilderness, without cellular phones, pagers or Game Boys.

But RiverTrek, a five-day, 56-mile journey on the Little Miami River, is about more than wildlife and roughing it.

It's about breaking down stereotypes and building relationships.

The teens, ages 13 to 17, are from various economic and racial backgrounds and were recommended by teachers, coaches and mentors to participate in the journey. The Cincinnati Recreation Commission organizes the trek, and local sponsors provide food and supplies.

The trip is a good chance for kids from all different neighborhoods to work together, said Mark Celsor, service area coordinator at the commission.

"As the trip progresses, teens tend to branch out of their traditional social circles, Celsor said. "It happens pretty naturally," he said. "The kids gain an appreciation for nature, but also each other."

Eric Franz, citizens-on-patrol coordinator for Cincinnati police, said Monday's trip would be his fourth. He said having police work with kids on the trip is a good way for them to know that police "are real people, too."

"It's also a good chance for the kids to get to know police in a more positive environment," he said.

Celsor said the trip is also a good way for police to interact with teens as well.

"It's a good way for police to see that not all teenagers are troublemakers," he said.

Celsor also calls the trip a "rite of passage."

"This trip helps kids learn a lot about themselves and a lot about being responsible."

Part of being responsible means learning to live without the conveniences of modern living.

"We try to leave all the technology behind."

Thirteen-year-old Joe Lang of Westwood is excited about RiverTrek and doesn't care about roughing it. Lang said his baseball coach nominated him for the trip "because I give it my all, all the time."

"I think it will be a lot fun and teach me a lot about leadership," Lang said.

Celsor said it's "pretty neat" to watch teens work together and accomplish tasks on their own, even though some have never been camping or outside of the city before the trip.

"Mom and Dad aren't there to hold their hands," he said.

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