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Teens test team work on challenge course
Savanna Alieca shows her excitement after completing the Catwalk 40 feet in the air on the Venture Up Challenge Course. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Jenny Yu checked her helmet, pulled her gloves tight and eyed the 35-foot wooden pole in front of her.

Then she scaled it without even thinking twice.

Yu – who was on a trip to the ropes course at the San Joaquin County Office of Education with the Manteca Chamber of Commerce’s Junior Ambassadors Leadership Program – helped set the tone for the group’s afternoon outing by volunteering to the be the first person to tackle the “catwalk.” It involved scaling the 35-foot pole, walking across a wooden beam 40 feet to the other side, then falling backwards back down to the ground.

The Manteca High School junior said that she definitely felt scared when the time came to step onto the ladder, but the adrenaline rush that came from doing something so nerve-wracking had her anxious and ready to do it again.

But the fundamental lessons of the course – using teamwork and developing trust in order to accomplish a goal – weren’t lost on her.

“I felt kind of dizzy when I was going up – it was a feeling that was really different for me,” she said. “There was a definite sense of accomplishment there. I think that by doing something like this it makes people more open because you have to trust the person that’s down there anchoring you.

“I’m ready to go again.”

A group of more than 35 students from Manteca visited the site on Thursday morning and were led through a series of team-building exercises before they were ready to take the next step and start traversing the poles, ropes and pulleys high off of the ground.

The majority of the students were from the San Joaquin County one. Ambition program and a handful – including Yu – were from Manteca High’s Future Business Leaders of America club.

By taking a group of students that wants to thrive through a variety of activities – team-building rope exercises, mock city council meetings, meetings with local and regional legislatures in Sacramento, introductions to the movers and shakers of the community – Junior Ambassador Leadership Program Director Debby Moorhead hopes to show that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

“This year we have the One program involved and that includes some at-risk kids, and by doing the things that we do through this program it shows them as well as everyone else that you can be a doctor or a nurse or anything else that you work to become,” she said. “What’s great about this program is it gives these kids a chance to see what it is that they can become, and I think that you can see that in how they’re working with each other today.”

For the first time this year the program has even branched out beyond the immediate area.

Mario Perez – a Berkeley resident with ties to Manteca – heard such great things about the Junior Ambassadors that he convinced Moorhead to let his son Jason, who lives in Elk Grove, to come be a part of the activities.

Perez even suited up in a harness himself and tackled the “pamper pole” – a 35-foot climb straight up onto a small platform where he made a leap of faith to latch his hands onto a trapeze bar roughly 6-feet away from the footing.

“I want him (Jason) to grow and believe in himself and push himself more,” Perez said. “There are big things like teamwork in life, and I think this will teach him how to communicate and brainstorm and think – these are all things that are key in the business world.”