Rachel Rush has been an admirer of the outdoors her whole life.

'I'm from Boyertown so, my whole life, I've been outside, fishing, hiking, just exploring,' said Rush, an Americorps VISTA member working at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. 'That's kind of how I got into this. My mom's a very outdoorsy person, as well.'

As such, Rush hopes to spark a similar love of the outdoors in others, which included a group of children of Latino heritage who spent a week at Hopewell and French Creek State Park as a part of a day-camp program.

'I think the kids enjoy it. It gives them a chance to get outside, enjoy some outdoor activities,' Rush said. 'This is the first time some of them have seen a swimming pool, first time most of them have gone fishing, first time most have gotten a camping experience.'

Edie Shean-Hammond, the superintendent of Hopewell, said Rush helped run the 8-year-old program which gives the children a week-long experience in the parks.

'This is the largest program with the most participants that the park holds,' Shean-Hammond said.

Shean-Hammond said the parks partnered with Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos (CCLU), a Pottstown area organization meant to serve Latino residents.

More than 40 children took part in the program, according to Shean-Hammond, representing 13 different countries. She said they're all in the country legally.

'The aim of this is to assimilate these kids into American culture,' Shean-Hammond said. 'The CCLU wants to keep these kids' cultures but to teach them a little about the U.S. and where better than here (in the parks)?'

Thursday, after spending some time swimming in the morning, more than a dozen children were taken to a part of Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park to fish.

Each child used a fishing rod and cast his or her line out with worms put on the hook by Rush or other volunteers.

'It's important for Latino kids to have these opportunities in the summertime: to swim in a pool and get together and see nature,' said Rita Paez, founder and executive director of Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos.

Owen Munoz, 9, said it was the second time he's been fishing.

'It's fun to go camping here,' he said.

He also said he's enjoyed going to the pool every day.

Vanezza Rosas helped Daniela Miranda Peñate, a little girl whose family arrived from El Salvador just this month, bait and cast her line.

A National Park Academy intern, Rosas said the camping experience given to the kids at Hopewell is invaluable because they might not get it elsewhere, especially since their parents work long hours.

Shean-Hammond said last week the first time the program has had an overnight-camping experience. Thursday into Friday, the kids camped out in French Creek, doing the typical camping things like cooking hot dogs and beans on a campfire, telling ghost stories and making s'mores.

'The s'mores are a big deal,' Shean-Hammond said.

Next to Munoz on the shore of the lake, Daniel Contreras caught a fish about the size of his palm. All the kids gathered around him to check it out. Volunteers like Rush taught him how to hold the fish to put it back in the lake.

Rush hopes to turn the program into a full-week of camping overnight.

Paez also hopes to expand the program. She said sharing cultures isn't easy for the Latino community primarily because of barriers such as language.

One way she hopes to continue the sharing of culture is through a juggling class that will bring together young children and seniors.

'That will be a nice program,' said Paez. 'Maybe with a senior, they embrace each others' cultures and kidn of helping each other to know each other.'

In the meantime, Rush said some of the children at the camp have already asked how they can come back to volunteer and help out at the parks. She was happy to hear their enthusiasm.

'As an environmental science major, I think it is very important for the kids to get off the video games, get off the computer, start realizing the world around them, realizing what's outside at your fingertips,' Rush said.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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