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Students Take City Youths Outdoors

Three-Year-Old Harvard Outdoor Program Bridges Town-Gown Gap

By Richard L. Callan

Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., a van rolled to a stop near the West Cambridge Teen Center. Six teenagers jumped in, and along with three Harvard students, the group headed off for a canoe trip.

The actual canoe trip turned out to be a short journey. Ten minutes after the group left the shore, the strong wind and choppy waters on the Charles that day overturned one of the canoes, and the leaders decided to call off the expedition. Instead, the group decided to go bowling for the day.

While the change of plans for that day's outing was unusual, the scene outside the teen center Saturday morning is typical. Weather permitting, it begins every Saturday morning during the academic year in some part of Cambridge, when Harvard students pick up small groups of Cambridge youths for outdoor trips under the guise of the Harvard Outdoor Program.

The program was set up three years ago by President Bok and since then has been quietly taking young Cantabrigians on outdoor trips ranging from hiking and bicycle riding to ropes, courses and canoeing.

The activities--which generally last a day--cost the youths nothing. The expenses are paid through a fund administered by Bok's office and the student leaders volunteer their time.

Fifteen regular leaders, most of whom are Harvard students, work with the program. Many also participate as leaders in the Freshman Outdoor 'Program--FOP--and are thus trained in CPR and First Aid, according to co-director Michael D. Samols '86. On every trip, says Samols, there is one leader who is trained in both--and he says that next year each will probably be required to undergo training. Because of this, and because parents must sign a permission form, the group can undertake a wide variety of activities.

"I want to see as many kids as possible exposed to the outdoors," says Samols, adding, "I want to cover a broad spectrum of groups and one trip can really inspire one kid. The outdoor experience is unique and spiritual." And last week's accidental trip into the Charles did not fall short of that ideal.

Crisis Situation

"This has been a valuable experience for these kids. They saw a crisis situation, how not to panic and how to make good, conservative decisions. Then, if they ever get into a similar situation, they'll know how to handle it," said Samols.

The program works with a variety of Cambridge groups, including the Boys' and Girls' Clubs, House and Neighborhood Development Program, Phillips Brooks House, and the Cambridge Department of Human Services. Each trip takes about 9 youngsters, between the ages of 6 and 14, although some may be older.

The director of the West Cambridge Teen Center. Robert F. Goodwin, a youth specialist with the Cambridge Human Services Department, says he is pleased with the results of the program. "This is a real plus for these kids. These are opportunities they would never get otherwise," Goodwin said.

Samols says that while most of the leaders have come through word of mouth and that the program has not done any publicity or advertising, he plans to announce it next year to FOP leaders and freshmen who participate in FOP to bolster the leadership.

The program grew out of the Freshman Outdoor Program, which each year takes about 140 freshmen backpacking and camping. "When I became a sophomore, some of us talked and decided to make a real program out of it," according to Hilary H. Getis '84, the other co-director.

We wanted to do high quality trips and involve as many people as possible." Getis says, adding, "there's a very strong need out there. Kids at that age are often at loose ends--they're too young to relate in a serious way and too old for arts and crafts. We see this as a way for them to engage in a wholesome activity."

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