Full Circle: On Pilots and Programming
October 16, 2011 2:45 pm
This week we’re continuing our introductions to some of the youth we’ve worked with over the last 5 years. The story I want to tell you today spans all five of those years. It’s a story that starts with our pilot program in 2007. We learned a lot in that program – including lots of things to do differently. Our programming has grown exponentially since then, and looks a lot different. (If you missed our Summer Reflections, take a look.) But it all goes back to this (very) small program with a few youth from Center on Halsted in the summer of 2007.
We didn’t plan for this to be a pilot. This was going to be our first program – 5 youth planned to join us for 2 hours of paddling each week for four weeks.
I first met the group at Center on Halsted the week before for an orientation. Little did I know that it was also an audition of sorts for me! One of the young men introduced himself as “Bob,” and then said that people usually called her Aunt “Mary.” Another young man, “Joe,” asked if it was OK if he wore a skirt to paddle. I grew up in the gay and lesbian community in the 80’s, and had known several transgender people – so I asked “Bob” if I should call him “Bob” or if she preferred that I call her “Mary,” and I told “Joe” that in general I didn’t personally find skirts to be practical paddling clothing, but that the more important consideration was to avoid wearing cotton.
I think I passed the gender-bending audition. Still, only two young youth showed up at Montrose Beach the next week.
It was a sweet day. At the orientation “Joe” bragged that he was going to paddle for miles, leaving us all in the dust. When he got on the water, he was far more timid. When he realized he was in water over his head, unable to steer until that point, he did a full 180, heading back to the shore exclaiming “I DON’T WANT TO BE DROWNDED!”
He was adamant that if he went out deeper than his head he would drown, and the life vest wouldn’t help in the least. So “Bob” and I each took one of “Joe’s” hands and had him lay back in shallow water to feel the effect of the life vest. After several tries, “Joe” was able to float. Now his exclamation was “I’M DOING IT!”
Neither of the young men returned the next week, and despite the sweetnes of that day, we called it a pilot program, wrote off the season as a bust, licked our wounds, changed our approach based on what we’d learned, and moved forward.
So imagine my surprise three years later when, in the June of 2010 we started programming with The Night Ministry, and I show up with a kayak and climbing gear at a bank parking lot with 200 youth hanging out at 10:00 at night to meet the outreach van and provide an orientation before we start programming – and practically run into “Bob!” “Bob” was now on the youth council at The Night Ministry, and his area of responsibility was with the adventure club. I was more surprised when I realized he remembered me – and downright speechless when he described, in detail and with amazing enthusiasm, the wet exit I’d made him do before kayaking with a spray skirt. He corralled 10 youth, the maximum we’d set, to climb with us the next day.
We’ve paddled, climbed, cycled and navigated with “Bob” and his peers for a year and a half now. We’ve watched “Bob” cheer and teach and motivate and support his peers.
We’ve watched him be a leader, helping other young people to find their strength.
I’d like to tell you about one of them next week – a young woman who we’ve watched as her physical comfort with herself has transformed and deepened over that year and a half.