Richard Harrold has led quite a few kayak and canoeing trips along the Tualatin River over the years, but the Beaverton resident thinks the group from Forest Grove that came to paddle at Rood Bridge Park last Friday was the liveliest — and the loudest — of them all. Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: DAVID ROZA - Seventy girls from the Adelantas Chicas summer camp program took turns kayaking and canoeing on the Tualatin River at Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro last Friday. The Tualatin Riverkeepers provided the canoes, kayaks and supervisors.

“This is one of my favorite groups because of all the excitement,” said Harrold. “You’ve never seen so many smiles, or heard so many screams.”

The paddlers were part of a summer camp of 70 girls sponsored by Adelantes Chicas, a year-round youth development program run by the Forest Grove-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres. Adelante Chicas empowers Latina girls by helping them get good grades, learn life skills and adopt healthy lifestyles, as well as how to apply to college. Field trips like the one to Rood Bridge Park expose the girls to careers in science, arts and the environment. News-Times photo: David Roza

“I just love paddling into the water and splashing each other!” said Itziel, a 9-year-old from Cornelius.

“Or you could just get a little wet when you raise the paddle over your head,” added her equally young friend, Danitza. “Then you can lean back and relax for a little.”

Water and giggles sprayed through the air over the calm, shaded river along with shouts and laughter in Spanish, English and sheer gibberish as second-graders, middle-schoolers and even high-schoolers floated and collided into each other and the river banks in a happy chaos.

“This camp is a great resource for these kids,” said Chicas leader and parent Patricia Alvarado. “Otherwise, most of them would be at home with a babysitter, and one of our girls would be at a migrant worker camp picking berries.”

Alvarado knows how helpful Chicas can be from the experience of her own daughter.

“Briana was very shy, with heart conditions and asthma, but when she got home from this camp she was amazed. She said, ‘Mom, these girls have black hair and brown eyes like me and speak Spanish like me!’ She was very excited; it was a big thing for her identity as a Latina.”

Adelantes Chicas is not just supportive of the task of building identity — it’s also effective in helping Latina girls support themselves through education. According to Cristina Delgado, the site facilitator for Adelante Mujeres, all eight of the senior Chicas girls who were enrolled at Forest Grove High School and high schools in Hillsboro graduated and are now college-bound to schools as close as Portland Community College or as far away as Cottey College in Missouri.

Though most of the 350 “Chicas” come from low-income migrant families, Adelante Mujeres helps pay for college with an “individual development accounts” program that matches every dollar a girl saves with three dollars from Sherwood-based Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Oregon. The maximum a girl can save is $3,000. With the funds match of $9,000, that makes a total of $12,000 that can be spent on tuition fees, textbooks and computers.

The week leading up to Friday’s river trip was themed “Healthy Lifestyles.” The girls learned about healthy nutrition and about their impact on nature. Leading them through the week was Isabel LaCourse, environmental education coordinator for the Tualatin Riverkeepers, a nonprofit tasked with taking care of the Tualatin watershed.

“The focus is to connect to a natural area and find out how our choices affect the world around us ... and therefore, us,” said LaCourse.

Earlier in the week, LaCourse and her young pupils made salves and lip balm out of beeswax and olive oil, and they also went out to the B Street Trail in Forest Grove to study macro-invertebrates, tiny organisms that are key indicators of the health of an ecosystem.

“Even on Wednesday when it was really hot out, the third- and fourth-graders were still excited to go out and count mayflies,” said LaCourse.

The river lessons have piqued already-inquisitive minds.

“The girls’ parents call me and ask, ‘What is my daughter talking about — ‘macro-invertebrates?’” said Alvarado. “They’re really proud of what they’ve learned. The girls walk through a park and say ‘that’s a Japanese tree,’ or ‘that’s an elm.’ Then they say ‘I won’t use anything chemical,’ and they go to to figure out which products have bad chemicals in them.” News-Times photo: David Roza

After a quick lunch break on Friday, the girls learned safe fishing techniques from an Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife volunteer. But instead of fish, it was the girls who were caught — hook, line and sinker — by the experience.

“I just like looking at nature, hanging out with each other, and helping each other out when we get confused or lost,” said Joselyn, a 10-year-old from Cornelius. “Mother Nature didn’t make electronics, she made plants and trees and flowers.”

“It’s such a beautiful experience being outside in nature instead of being inside playing video games,” said Joselyn’s friend, Amalia.

“We also found out that microbeads in face soap are really bad,” Joselyn explained. “They get flushed down into the water supply where a fish might confuse it with plankton. Then as the chemicals go up the food chain we eventually get a big dose of it.”

While the Chicas have this week off, next week will be Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) week, where the girls will explore the right side of their brains by shooting off bottle rockets and meeting with Latina engineers at the Intel campus in Hillsboro.

“When the girls go to places like Intel and meet with Latina engineers they discover new role models for themselves,” said Alvarado. “Those are challenging jobs, but they’re very inspiring.”

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