By Shawn Annarelli Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)
PETERSBURG, Huntingdon County
Cassandra Wade's hand was already halfway up when an instructor asked a group of campers who wanted to go on the giant tree swing -- a 35-foot-high ride for anyone who dared to go to the top.
Wade was chosen first, got pulled to the top and gave her fellow cadets the cue to let her go.
"This feels amazing," Wade, 14, of Harris Township, screamed as she began her back-and-forth swing.
It was all part of the 31st annual Centre County law enforcement Camp Cadet program, in which 35 girls between 12 and 15 years old took part in a six-day overnight camp at Camp Blue Diamond near Petersburg, Huntingdon County.
A camp for boys was last week.
The summer camp, organized by State College police and state police, helps build confidence in cadets to conquer challenges, foster self-esteem and a positive relationship between youth and law enforcement.
Exercises also focus on drug and alcohol education, violence prevention and other issues affecting teens.
It concludes Friday with a graduation ceremony, said Kelly Aston, the girls' week officer in charge.
The giant tree swing is just one of many activities the girls took part in.
Rowan Sheridan, 14, watched Wade's ride and tried to decide which part was the scariest for her.
"The worst part is when you jump off the ladder, because then you really have to trust your whole team." said Rowan, of State College. "No, the worst part is when you get to the top, and you can't just sit there. Your whole team is ready for you to go, and you're just hanging there, so it is a little bit scary."
There also were archery lessons, team-building exercises on obstacle courses and hands-on sessions with crime-scene investigators and the FBI.
Aston said there was a uniform purpose behind each activity.
"There's a lot for them to take away from here, and it's really about them discovering their inner strength to do some challenging things that they probably never had a chance to do," she said. "Some of them come in a little scared and homesick, but they continue to be introduced to new things and new people, and they experience success."
Aston said the camp offers the girls an opportunity to see women in law enforcement -- a career path they might not have thought of before the camp.
Crystal Young, 13, of Bellefonte, wants to follow in her father's footsteps and join the Navy. She said her favorite part of the camp was making new friends.
"There were some challenging obstacle courses I liked, and there were some new ones this year," Young said. "I think my favorite part was probably getting together to eat and meeting new people. Oh, and the bonfires."
Eighteen-year-old Alexis Franks attended the camp for four years and became a junior counselor this year. Franks, of Bellefonte, plans to join the Air Force, in part because of her experiences at the camp.
"I think I really just got into it and started talking to the staff about what they did," Franks said. "They give you a real experience with a lot of things here, and it's not just like what you see on TV."
Joannah Skucek said the camp made her curious about a law enforcement career.
"I'm still thinking, but this camp has certainly interested me in," Skucek, 14, of State College said. "I think when actual people come down that are professionals it's really cool."
But she wasn't too sure about the giant tree swing.
"No, I'm nervous," she said.