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Chicago Adventure Therapy

Using outdoor adventure sports like paddling, orienteering, camping, cycling, and rock climbing, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) works with Chicago youth to have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills and strong leadership skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.

Who We Work With

Chicago youth face overwhelming challenges every day. CAT works with and has worked with youth:

  • in or exiting the state foster care system
  • experiencing homelessness or unstable housing
  • receiving or in need of mental health treatment
  • experiencing poverty
  • who are gang-involved
  • who have experienced interpersonal or community violence
  • who identify as LGBTQ
  • who are refugees from war-torn countries
  • *the families of these youth (new for 2020/2021)

Hear from our Youth

Over the years Chicago Adventure Therapy youth have presented at various symposiums and expos about subjects that they feel are important, timely, and deeply affect their lives. This year our youth have two video presentations that will be shown at the Quiet Adventures Symposium and Canoecopia. We hope you’ll join us for both of these virtual presentations:

All Boats Float: Welcoming People of Color into Paddling

We all love paddling. How can we share our passion with under-represented communities, specifically black, indigenous, and other people of color? Hear from a panel of young paddlers of color about their experiences entering the sport and why they stuck around. They will share concrete steps that you or your club can take to become a safe and welcoming paddling community. Sponsored by the American Canoe Association (ACA) and Chicago Adventure Therapy.

Watch it at 7 pm CST on Thursday, February 18th at the Quiet Adventures Symposium

Watch it at 4 pm CST on Saturday, March 13th at Canoecopia

Here is what our team had to say about this topic in 2020: “Let’s Talk About Race”. Please excuse the poor editing, we were just getting used to Zoom at the time.

Chicago Youth Led Programming

Chicago Adventure Therapy acquired a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program to have a group of young adults lead a yearlong project that includes water safety talks, paddling, extravaganzas, beach clean ups and becoming kayak coaches. These young leaders, people of color, were excited to reach people within communities that aren’t usually engaged in water sports or conservation. Everything changed when COVID-19 hit. The restrictions imposed meant the group had to quickly figure out how to make it work without the ability to meet in person – a disappointing and daunting task to push through. This group wants to share their story about how they are pulling it off, what they have learned along the way, and why their work is important.

Watch it at 3 pm CST on Saturday, March 13 at Canoecopia

Watch the Water Safety Talks this amazing team put together.

Coronavirus Updates

February 2021: CAT worked hard during the summer and fall of 2020 to offer safe in-person programs that complied with all national, state, and city guidelines. While we currently are offering only remote and virtual programs, we hope our city will reach a point in 2021 where we can return to COVID-safe in-person programs again. We will continue to monitor case numbers in Chicago and the vaccine rollout. Please contact us with questions or if you are interested in virtual programs now and/or in-person programs in the future. You can follow these links for  detailed information about our COVID policies and procedures and our risk assessment.

Paddling with COVID restrictions in place

Make sure to check our calendar tab to learn more about current programming and events!

A note from our Executive Director:

This is a challenging, unpredictable, surreal time. We hope that you, your family, and your loved ones are OK – and we know that many people aren’t OK right now.

As always, our young people are our first priority. We are checking in with young people, providing resources for support where they need it (the most common request for resources has been information about where to get food), and offering a listening ear where people need it. 

We are working to be ready to re-start programming as quickly as possible when it’s safe to do that, without asking partner agencies to pay for programming that might not happen. Our goal is to be safe, flexible and nimble.

We are developing financial strategies to weather the worst case scenario. For now, we are considering “worst case scenario” to mean the loss of the full Summer 2021 season. We hope this will not be the reality; and believe it is irresponsible not to plan for this eventuality.

You can help. Revenue this time of year and for the next several months usually comes from early summer public programs and our “regular” summer programming. With the delay or loss of summer programming, we will lose revenue this time of year. You can help in the following ways:

If you have not donated to CAT, we hope you will

If you have donated in past years, we hope you will consider changing your donation to a recurring monthly donation

If you usually give at the end of the year, we hope you will consider giving earlier this year

All of these actions help to even out our cash flow, which will help us keep our doors open for another season, helping young people get outdoors and develop the skills to successfully navigate a quickly changing, challenging world.

Thank you so much. Please stay safe.

– Andrea Knepper, LSCW | Founder and Executive Director

You Make it Possible

We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons, so we work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic price for them. Over 50% of our budget is raised through the generous contributions of individuals like you.

*Chicago Adventure Therapy values and promotes diversity and inclusion in our organization, our programming, and our partnerships. We are dedicated to providing quality, safe, effective programming to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification or expression, body type, ability, income, religion, philosophy, and/or all other identities represented in our diverse city.


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