Boosters provide summer fun, life lessons for area children

By Chris Nichols Daily Planet Staff By Chris Nichols, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday July 10, 2002

For Shawne Jones, growing up in Berkeley wasn't always easy. The 19-year-old says she certainly could have chosen the wrong path in life.  

However, 10 summers with the Berkeley Boosters Association’s summer activity programs had a positive impact on her, and may have kept her out of trouble, Jones said. 

As a kayak instructor for the booster's summer program and a former camper, Jones is hoping to provide other kids with the same opportunities.  

“I could have gone down another road but I'm still here because I want to be able to give back to the kids and to be a positive role model,” she said. 

In its third year, the kayaking program is one example of the many activities the boosters organize to help low-income, at-risk kids in the area.  

The association models itself on the Outward Bound philosophy, using outdoor education as a tool to teach life skills, said David Manson, executive director of the Berkeley Boosters Association.  

“We provide so many activities that, due to financial or cultural reasons, a lot of these kids would not have access to,” Manson said, naming rock climbing, camping, windsurfing, kayaking. “They're just things they wouldn't otherwise have the chance to appreciate.” 

Part of the boosters’ mission is to provide low-cost activities. 

The two-week kayaking program costs $85 for members and $110 for non-members. Eighty percent of the kayaking class participants were given scholarships, another means of making the program accessible to children. 

Once the kids are in the programs, the outdoor settings provide new challenges. Participants develop new skills and grow as individuals through these challenges, Manson said.  

“Enjoying and appreciating the outdoors is one thing, but the behavior change is so much quicker because the kids have to respond differently than they normally would,” he said. “They can't use the same attitudes they do on the street. Outdoors, if you want to survive, you have to take a different approach.” 

On her second day kayaking at the Berkeley Marina, eighth- grader Canon Jones and his cousin, Julian Johnson, had high hopes to improve both their balance and speed in the water.  

“I want to improve my racing and be able to go faster in the water without tipping over,” Johnson said. 

For Gesita Melkamu, a fifth-grader at Washington Elementary School, the boosters’ summer camp has already provided the chance to tackle a number of new activities. In the past few weeks, Melkamu has done everything from camping to kayaking to white water rafting, all for the first time. Enjoying the surroundings is a big part of the thrill says Melkamu. 

“My favorite part is getting out in the middle of the water and looking at the view. I love the noise of the water,” Melkamu says. 

Esteban Yanez, a kayaking instructor who has been with the boosters for almost 10 years, said the outdoor programs are positive alternatives to other activities. “It gives them a place to go besides watching TV,” Yanez said. “It gives them outdoor fun.” 

A participant in the bike riding and backpacking programs, eighth-grader Gerald Archos says the Boosters program has mad a difference. “If I wasn't here I'd have nothing to do over the summer. I'd probably be outside in the streets doing something I shouldn't be doing,” Archos said. 

Though the Boosters do not currently have a strong teen oriented program, Manson says that he hopes many of the younger campers will return as counselors-in-training and as instructors. Older campers are often given leadership roles and by the age of 15 are considered for employment opportunities.