ELIMSPORT - It was a hot August morning when 14 backpack-toting teenagers and three adults gathered along a gravel road in Tiadaghton State Forest.
While camping in the forest the previous night, a thunderstorm blasted the area, drenching everyone as they slept, or tried to sleep.
The storm had passed by morning, but it was replaced by a moist, wilting heat, an occasional drizzle and biting insects.
Drenched by a rain but young and strong, youth from the Be Challenged program walk up a mountain road.
The entire group had a wet dish-rag look about it, but packing up and heading home was not an option. The youth - 12 males and two females ranging in age from 12 to 18 - were participating in Be Challenged, a weekend outdoor program for juvenile offenders administered by Pennsylvania Treatment and Healing, or PATH.
The program serves youth from Lycoming County and other counties in the state.
"Most of them are on juvenile probation and are court-ordered to be here," said Blaine Cohick, program outreach coordinator.
The program usually involves two-day trips, but on this particular weekend, Cohick oversaw four days of camping, physical conditioning and hiking. Participants also log in community service hours by performing trail maintenance. Assisting Cohick were Marjaneh Frelin, PATH day treatment supervisor, and Zack Hanner, alternative education program teacher.
The outing isn't easy or comfortable, but it isn't meant to be.
"You're always on the edge of discomfort," Cohick said. "We do this all year long - rain, snow, sleet or shine."
Cohick said the rain the group endured the previous night was uncomfortable but only moderately so compared to other weekends.
"It was bad but it wasn't anything we haven't experienced before," he said.
The hikes are no leisurely strolls. Participants hike between 15 and 25 miles on any given weekend, said Cleveland Way, program manager for PATH's Williamsport office.
Weekends rightly can be described as "roughing it," but an emphasis is placed on safety, Cohick said. Adult supervisors are certified in first aid and CPR, and weekend activities are customized to account for weather conditions such as extreme cold or heat.
"If it's 100 degrees, we'll innovate, adapt and overcome," he said. "We might take an easier trail or take more frequent water breaks."
Adult supervisors take a "tough love" approach in which they are equal parts older sibling, teacher and drill instructor, Cohick said.
"You have to give compassion to the kids when they need it and also be tough on them at the same time," he said.
In spite of being water-logged and a bit demoralized, the group began stepping off a hike up the gradual incline of the gravel road. After several miles, the group turned onto a rugged - and steeper - logging road that zig-zagged up a mountain ridge.
"To the top? You've got to be kidding me," one youth said as he gazed upward to where the road disappeared around a bend in the mountain.
"This is a short hike compared to what we were going to do," Cohick told the youth.
After a short rest, the group continued on, with Frelin leading the vanguard and Cohick and Hanner escorting the middle and back of the pack, respectively.
Frelin seemed to have energy to spare and took obvious satisfaction in the hike.
"This is my 27th weekend in about a year-and-a-half," Frelin said. "It's empowering. It teaches them self discipline but also teaches that they can do more than they thought they could. They look up a steep trail and say they can't do it, but we push them and motivate them."
"They learn all kinds of stuff coming out here," Hanner said. "They get to do stuff they wouldn't necessarily get to do in Williamsport."
During the hike, Cohick ordered one of his male charges to do 10 push-ups for using profanity. The young man refused.
Cohick told the rest of the hikers to continue on with Hanner while he and Frelin remained behind to speak to the young male. They spoke to him in calm, quiet tones, telling him he had a choice between doing the push-ups or doing more community service. Still, the young man refused. In the distance, some of the hikers turned and watched.
"He's doing the push-ups," one of them said. The trio soon joined the rest of the group, and the hike continued.
"We use push-ups as a motivational tool," Frelin said. "It also gives them a chance to redeem themselves for mistakes."
"It's not punishment," Cohick said. "It's about accountability."
The program also is designed to get kids away from their troubled environment and into one where they are compelled to rely upon themselves and each other, Cohick said.
While the youth are put through their paces, the supervising adults are with them step-for-step, enduring the same foul weather, eating the same spartan meals and hiking the same trails.
"We're out here experiencing the same thing the clients are experiencing," Cohick said. "The clients can express their discomfort, but we have to internalize it and put on a stoic face or everybody loses morale - and morale was pretty low this morning when they woke up.
"Kids complain, but it's a teaching point in life," he said. "These weekends aren't easy, but you have to deal with the elements and overcome them."
According to Edward Robbins, county chief juvenile probation officer, some kids are ordered by the courts into the program under the recommendation of juvenile probation.
Others are in it as a result of probation violations, Robbins said.
The program is geared mostly for middle school-aged youth, Robbins said.
"It's a new experience for them," he said. "They're learning some skills that will make them somewhat confident in the woods. There is a learning opportunity there."
"For most of the kids, they've never camped out and haven't been exposed to the woods," Cohick said. "We're teaching them just the basics - how to purify water, what trees make the best campfires.
"We teach them the state flower, state tree and state bird," he said. "Some of the kids have never built a fire. We teach them where the best dead branches can be found."
A by-product of the experience is that it may foster an environmental ethic among participants, Robbins said.
"If we can instill that respect for nature and the environment, that's a bonus for us," he said. "It's a small part, but it's a key part."
"My greatest hope is that being out in the woods might spark an interest in the outdoors and they can start experiencing outdoor activities rather than the things that led to them being in this program in the first place," Cohick said.
"It's all about these kids - trying to help them and providing a good role model for them," Cohick said.