Girls increase presence at State College Camp Cadet

Katie Basalla is working toward her dream.

And the Penn State senior has a pretty good head start. Basalla, studying crime, law and justice, hopes to land a job in law enforcement when she graduates.

She already serves as a lieutenant in the Penn State auxiliary police, which employs up to 175 students during the fall and spring semesters.

But she’s had some help along the way.

Basalla knew from a young age she wanted to be a police officer, but for her the dream crystallized in 2005 when she attended the State College Camp Cadet, a weeklong camp for 12- to 15-year-old boys and girls that exposes the youngsters to law enforcement.

“I was there as a cadet, and it made me learn a lot about myself,” Basalla said. “I realized I could do anything I set my mind to. It made me realize this was an option for me.”

The cadet experience helped so much that she’s been giving back almost ever since, working as a junior counselor and mentoring other girls.

This year, Basalla and the professional volunteers who take time from jobs across the law enforcement spectrum — police, district judges, emergency responders — to run the camp will have their hands full.

About 50 young women from schools across Centre County will participate this year in the camp’s girls week, which began Sunday. That’s a marked increased from previous years, including in 2011 when girls week was canceled due to poor attendance.

“After 2011, we worked really hard on recruiting,” said District Judge Leslie Dutchcot, who helps organize the event and volunteers during girls week. “It’s a great feeling to have so many girls who want to come out.”

The camp, spearheaded by Kelly Aston, State College police community relations officer, is designed in part to develop a better understanding between youth and law enforcement officers in Centre County.

It also gives attendees, whether interested in a career in law enforcement or not, a chance to learn and bond in a camp environment, complete with outdoor activities like swimming, canoeing, softball and even some more adventurous options like rock wall climbing and zip-lining.

Dutchcot said the camp gives girls the opportunity to challenge themselves and learn something new about who they are.

“We hope everybody takes something away from it, finds that inner strength.” she said. “Whatever fear you have, you have a chance to conquer it.”

Young women like Basalla are a good example, she said.

“You think about the girls who have come through,” Dutchcot said. “They are going to have a positive impact on the community. If you have one young lady now, how many will she mentor?”

Basalla still remembers how important her mentors were.

“I think of all the staff members out there, all the women,” Basalla said. “They all come from different places. It shows that women can do this job too.”

Now giving back and helping other girls is the least Basalla can do.

“All these girls, after graduation, they are going to leave with heads held high,” Basalla said. “They will have 50 new friends for a lifetime.”