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Camp Chica

Summer camp for low-income Latinas opens them to art, culture, health, nature and more


Kaely Summers, who runs the Forest Grove Farmers Market for Adelante Mujeres, reads a Gary Larson book called Theres A Hair In My Dirt to Adelante Chicas summer campers during a recent event at Nana Cardoon, a one-acre farm in Forest Grove.A bevy of third- and fourth-grade girls gathered around a table at Nana Cardoon farm in Forest Grove to share a meal they all cooked together as part of a tamale workshop and cooking lesson led by community members and volunteers.

Charlene Murdock, who owns the farm with her husband, Richard White, let about 70 girls from the Adelante Chicas Summer Camp come to her one-acre farmD and pick food to make salsa, corn tortillas and tamales.

In addition, the girls decorated tomato cages, made jewelry from willow twigs, rode a bike rigged to power a flour grinder, and had a chocolate lesson led by Elena Rasmussen, owner of the Gaston Market.

“They will have a different understanding of how they eat food,” said Murdock, who was amazed by the girls’ patience and attentiveness.

Adelantes Chicas is a year-round program sponsored by the Forest Grove-based nonprofit Adelante Mujeres. The program’s mission is to empower young Latinas and to cultivate leadership skills in both the girls and their families. The summer camp, based at Pacific University, allows girls from low-income families to attend the three-week camp for free — an opportunity most wouldn’t otherwise get. NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: JOHN MYERS - Richard White, co-owner of Nana Cardoon, shows two Chicas how to sift off the bran from the flour after it has been ground using a bike-powered grain mill.

“We know these girls can thrive. They just need to be provided avenues and opportunities,” said Andrea Chunga-Celis, summer camp coordinator. “We want to help the community and the only way to do that is to help our youth and that’s why we start young, in third grade, to get them motivated in elementary school.”

The girls in grades three through 12 split into three groups to learn new activities according to each week’s theme. Nana Cardoon was part of the “art and culture” week, when the girls also learned and practiced photography techniques from a professional photographer. One girl, for example, worked on portraits of her friend, while another looked for texture and color by getting up close to flowers and plants. Charlene Murdock, who co-owns Nana Cardoon with her husband, was amazed at the patience and attentiveness of the Chicas she worked with to prepare food for their noon meal.

“I like seeing them grow,” said Camp Facilitator Cristina Delgado. “They wouldn’t have been exposed to these things without the camp.”

Next week’s theme will be Healthy Lifestyles and the girls will go to different natural reserves. The final week will focus on S.T.E.M. — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in addition to education and career options.

Each Friday the girls go on a big field trip to destinations such as the Portland Art Museum, Rood Bridge Park in Hillsboro, and the Tualatin Wildlife Refuge in Sherwood, as well as smaller trips near Forest Grove.

“Our small ones get really excited, especially when we go to the Portland Art Museum,” Chunga-Celis said. “We have also been to beaches as well and different museums. Sometimes we build partnerships, like with Tualatin Riverkeepers, and we are offsite for many days.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: JOHN MYERS - At Nana Cardoon, a Chica takes a ride on the special bike that is really a bike-powered grain mill for grinding grain into flour.

Along with the supportive staff, many high school graduates volunteer as well. Volunteer and High School Senior Irasema Cortes, 17, appreciates the stories behind each chica.

“I feel like I can really learn from them,” she said.

Adelante Chicas campers sit down to enjoy food they harvested and prepared themselves at Nana Cardoon farm.

Girls in the Adelante Chicas summer camp practice photography techniques taught to them by Katharine Kimball, a professional photographer in Portland.