HOLYOKE "It's too hot," "It's going to rain," or "I don't know how to do this" are phrases that Russell Powell often hear from the girls at The Care Center when they first begin rowing practice.
According to Powell, however, as practice ensues, this initial reluctance turns to excitement and passion for the sport as the girls gain confidence and begin to believe in themselves and their abilities.
"After a while they get over those hurdles and all of the sudden they love the sport," said Powell, who coordinates the rowing program at The Care Center. "It's an amazing thing to see."
Equipped with this newfound confidence along with months of practice, 18 girls from The Care Center will be challenging teens from Boston's Children's Hospital and New Haven's Health Center on Aug. 20 at Brunell's Marina during the 5th Annual Young Parents Regatta.
The event is made possible by Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, a region-wide program created by The Care Center, with sites in Hanover, NH, Hartford, Conn., and Norwalk, Conn.
An estimated 50 girls are expected to participate in the event, according to Powell.
Powell explained that The Care Center jump-started the program six years ago with a grant from the New England Women's Fund, and has continued to facilitate the program with the help of grants from a variety of other organizations.
"We try to grow the program each year," Powell said. "We know what a positive thing it is for the girls."
According to Powell, the program was formed through the efforts of Anne Teschner, executive director of The Care Center, who is a rower.
"She's really the reason that this program exists," Powell said. "She loves rowing and is very enthusiastic about it and this program."
According to Techner, many of the girls at The Care Center have "tremendous capacity," but have "lacked opportunities to realize it."
"When they arrive at The Care Center, they typically have low expectations, and have little positive feedback," she said. "Rowing shows them that they can take chances and learn new skills, and in the process, it teaches them that they can be successful, dream big, and accomplish much."
She added, "Most of all, it's fun. It's good exercise, and it's a whole new world out on the [Connecticut] river the river that runs right through their city and backyards."
Last year, teens from The Care Center emerged victorious over the teams from Boston and New Haven, and over teams from Hartford, Conn., and Lawrence, Mass.
"They're hoping to win the title again," Powell said. "It will be very exciting."
He explained that although the girls take the competition "very seriously," its main purpose is to "celebrate the work that the girls have done in getting to the competition."
According to Powell, preparation for this Saturday's 2,000 meter race began in June and continued with practices twice a week at Brunelle's Marina.
As the competition day approached, however, Powell said practice increased to three times a week to provide the girls with added preparation time.
Led by coach Amy Beth Weisenfled of the exercise sports program at Smith Smith College, the majority of practices focus on one or two aspects of form, while others focused on stamina.
Rowing is one of the many afternoon programs that The Care Center students have to choose from.
Students can also take classes in such disciplines as art, tennis, dance, or photography.
All students are required to take part in an afternoon activity, after taking traditional academic classes towards their GED in the morning.
Each year, more than 120 pregnant and parenting teens use The Care Center, an alternative education center located at 247 Cabot Street. Services include on-site day care, counseling, help making the transition to employment and higher education, nutritious food, and door-to-door transportation. The Care Center has received national recognition as model for youth empowerment, the strengthening of young families, and teen pregnancy prevention.
The regatta will begin at 10 a.m. at Brunelle's Marina in South Hadley. For more information about the event, contact Russell Powell at (413) 247-3232.