"How would you like to live on a farm this summer, milk the cows, have bull sessions around the kitchen table with a warm, wonderful happy family?" asks the well-dressed woman, flinging her arms in the air.
Her target -- a tall, timid, jeans-clad teen-age girl -- steps back and smiles into the collar of her ski jacket.
"Or, maybe you'd rather try this drama camp," the woman counters, flipping the pages of a beautiful brochure under the girl's nose.
The blond teen-ager makes a face.
"The kids know what they want," says Louise Gomprecht, once a camper herself who for the past 9 years, with partner Beatrice Levy, has matched 2,500 area kids to all kinds of summer adventures. bTheir "Tips on Trips" (ToT), a travel and camping advisory service, is free to students and their families.
Whether it's snow skiing in August or acting in Medieval street theater, studying at Cambridge or canoeing for 45 days in the wilderness (or just finding a good traditional camp), the two Baltimore women probably know where the experience is available.
"We function as a reference library," adds Levy, "where the kids and their parents come to a workshop, peruse the brochures, talk with us, pick a few to take home, and get the names of other kids who have already been there."
Special requests for a child who is interested only in rock guitar, or from foreign-born parents who want "my children to learn American ways" are not unusual.
"What could be more thrilling than a child telling you, 'You've changed my life,'" says Levy. She likes to use her own daughters as examples of how one special summer may do just that.
"After four summers in an all-girl, traditional camp, my girls were bored and I was struggling to find an interesting experience for each summer," says the former day-camp counselor, who at 16 crossed America by train "way back when nobody did that."
"My own daughter was not yet 15 when I sent her on a summer program to Italy, and it opened her eyes to that whole world of art. She's now a Renaissance art expert at Christie's in New York."
Other success stories include the girl who climbed the Pyrenees and came home dreaming in French, the wealthy boy in a back brace who fell in love with the wilderness and is now a Department of Interior conservationist, and the sailing-camp enthusiast now studying marine biology at Yale.
And one teen-age boy, once a daily drug user, reports proudly that "after experiencing the genuine, natural high in the wilderness, I was able to give up marijuana."
Parents agree that one special adventure can make the difference.
"I'm against hanging around the suburbs or just taking a beach house for the summer," says Reba Immergut, a Potomac mother of three.
"My son was your typical 16-year-old who never verbalized anything. I got an 11-page letter, written on both sides about the thrill of climbing Mt. Rainier, conquering it, getting up and back down, just because he wanted to, not because anyone said he had to."
She recently returned to a ToT workshop looking for "an alternative summer to a North Carolina sailing camp that my daughter has outgrown. Besides, it's so popular with families around here, they just see all their same friends from home."
Bethesda mother Sarita Kubli recalls, "My 17-year-old came home from a 500-mile biking expedition with things that looked like rocks. My younger boy seemed so self-assured, his whole demeanor was different. He was so proud of himself after that summer."
Teresa Heinz, wife of Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), says her oldest son, 13-year-old John Jr., returned from unconventional (campers may live in tree houses or teepees) Colvig Silver Camp in Colorado "happier, more independent and with a better sense of what was real fun."
"'Too short, Mom,' were his first words when he got off the plane at Dulles. He was so filthy, I had to stop on the way home at the Safeway to get Borax to scrub him."
Not everyone, however, has fond memories of camp, including Tips on Trips' consultant Alexandra Hemmes of McLean.
"I hated my two summers at a traditional girls' camp with before-dawn cabin inspections and before-bed flashlight interrogations, but I would have adored to try some of these.
"Now, you can choose if you want to sleep up in a tree house or under the stars on a sailboat. You can go for a single sport like tennis, or just go out and cope with wilderness.There are even art camps like Bucks' Rock (Conn.), where there are no bells, no whistles, no flag raisings, and no inspections or uniforms. And if you just want to sit at a potter's wheel for two months, that's just dandy."
"The world has changed," says Hemmes. "A lot of parents just aren't aware of what's out there, especially for the child who might have outgrown the family favorite where Mom or Dad went. A general camp, though, may be fine for the younger ones, 7 to 11."
ToT leaders admit that sometimes the matching of experience and camper goes awry.
Debra Immergut, a 16-year-old Walt Whitman student, came back for a recent ToT workshop even though, "two summers ago I had a bad experience with a program out West. Our leaders just wanted a free vacation, some kids were smoking pot, and we didn't even see some of the places promised in the brochure." (All programs require a written pledge in which students promise not to use drugs or alcohol.)
ToT dropped the program after getting that report from Debra and her family.
"We've had two disasters and both programs were dropped," says another mother who, despite that, returned to ToT to sift through pamphlets. "This is still more helpful than just sending our two where their friends go, or just looking in The New York Times camp section."
"We don't win every time," concedes Levy. "But we are mothers ourselves and we just don't accept programs we wouldn't send our own kids to.
"That's why we interview all the kids when they come back and don't handle any first-year programs. We try to meet all the directors, check their references, see that the program is financially sound, and that the organization is bonded."
This year, according to Levy, all programs are filling earlier. More working mothers are seeking summer activities for their children and many families, fearing a gas shortage, are looking for alternatives to the long, family-car vacation.
"The overwhelming difference is that 50-60 percent of the mothers we deal with today are working, and even if they themselves went to camp, they just don't have the time now to research it for their own children.
"Also, because of the upward mobility in this area (ToT also operates in New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Beverly Hills), we're getting families where the parents didn't go to camp themselves." (Their lowest-cost program is $250 for two weeks at a traditional, general camp; their highest, a deluxe European hotel summer for $3,200.)
If money is a problem, Hemmes suggests that "families let their kids take turns having a special summer, try giving up something else, or work one summer to pay for the next."