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arc of justice

 

I wonder who among those of you who will read this post – who among you are old enough to remember when Martin Luther King Jr Day became a national holiday?

freedom not voluntarily givenI remember.  I was a kid.  Not a little kid – probably early teens.  Old enough to understand that this was important; young enough to be so naive as to be stunned when I learned that making Martin Kuther King’s birthday a federal holiday wasn’t an automatic, easy win.

I had a button in support of the holiday.  A big, round red and white political button.  I was wearing it one day when I ran into our neighbor, Mrs. Buckler.

Mrs. Buckler was old.  She was frail.  And she had some dementia.  I had watched my mom protect her when the local fraternity publicly and loudly teased and humiliated her during Rush Week.

So I was stunned when she saw my button and started an impassioned political conversation.  And even more stunned that she was furious about the idea that our country would create a holiday in honor of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

what are you doing for others

 

For my 13th birthday, I asked for “A Testament of Hope,” Dr. King’s collected writings.  Despite the fact that he and Harriet Tubman were my long-standing childhood heroes, I was oblivious to the fact that there was anybody who didn’t idolize MLK as I did.

I was shocked that anyone in this country would oppose a national day to remember and honor him.

 

 

Because, you see – I was a white girl.  Had I grown up a black girl, I would not have been shocked that racism still existed.  I might have idolized Rev. King – but I would have had no illusions that he or the Civil Rights Movement ended racial inequality and injustice in the United States of America.

This is what White Privilege is.

I could grow up passionately devoted to justice and equality, and not understand until my early teens that racism was alive and well.

 

inhust ice anywhere longThe majority of the young people we work with at CAT are young people of color.  They have taught me about this City we share.

Our young people of color don’t have the luxury of being so naive as to believe that our City is safe; or that it’s as safe for them as it is for me.  They talk of the dangers of “driving while black.”  They share stories of being stopped by the police, of being roughed up by the police every day.  I’ve watched police drive by a paddling venue and stop where they can watch our groups as we load kayaks; something that has never happened when I’ve paddled those same venues with white paddlers over the last 15 years.  We’ve had a peaceful group, sitting in a public gazebo debriefing a paddling program, approached by a police officer who’s first sentence was an aggressive “What’s REALLY going on here?”  He accused the group of threatening and violent behavior.

As a clinician, it’s tempting to take the view that I work with individuals; with individual hurts, individual betrayals, individual traumas — all safely apolitical and uncontroversial.

 

Trauma-informed care tells us otherwise.

silent aobut things that matter“To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between the victim and the perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the other hand, asks the bystander to share the burden or pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”
~ Herman, J. L. (1992). “Trauma and recovery”

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silence of our friends

 

In a city where we know the names of Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, LaQuan McDonald – I’m left with the question:

What is our ethical responsibility as clinicians who work with young people who have experienced trauma because of oppression?  Because of systemic racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisexism?

I believe we cannot be silent.

_________________________________________________________________________

While I would be less surprised today by Mrs. Buckler’s vehement opposition to making the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a Federal Holiday, I still have the privilege to choose to be utterly blind to the oppression and systemic racism that is a part of our young people’s lives day in and day out.  As a well-trained clinician, I believe I have an ethical responsibility to take an active and visible stance against it.  If I don’t, I betray the trust our young people put in me.

moments of pressure footer

Laura StatesirChicago Adventure Therapy is growing! We would like to introduce you to our newest staff member, Laura Statesir. This summer, Laura joined CAT as its first fulltime Program Director. Laura is a seasoned outdoor program manager and instructor with experience directing international adventure schools as well as fourteen years of guiding in both mountain and coastal settings in five different countries.

In college, Laura earned a BS in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences with an Outdoor Education Specialist certificate. Laura is a certified Wilderness First Responder, SCUBA Diver, and CPR/First Aid Instructor. Through CAT, she recently earned her British Canoe Union Two Star Award.

What Laura has to say about her new job:

I have always believed in the power of adventure activities and I am so excited to be a part of CAT’s amazing team. I have been volunteering with CAT for the past three years, mostly by taking youth from the Crib, a local homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth, on adventure activities. I am so pumped about working for CAT because I have seen the ways in which its programs change young people’s lives.

For example, “Matt” is one of the first young people I met through CAT. You can’t help but instantly like him. He’s goofy, friendly and very thoughtful. He took to kayaking like a duck to water. In one hour he mastered a skill that took me months to learn. That was almost three years ago. In that time “Matt” has earned a kayaking certification, been invited to paddle all over the US and even left the country for the first time when we took a group to Mexico.

But the beauty in “Matt”’s story is not about kayaking. It’s about how spending time with “Matt” on the water has changed his life. When I met “Matt”, he didn’t have a job or a place to live. He was sleeping on the streets, crashing on friend’s couches, or staying at the Crib. While “Matt” had many dreams and desired to be self-sustaining, he faced significant barriers like a lack of resources and opportunities, loss of his support system, and discrimination. Few people believed in him and he doubted himself. Day-to-day survival had become his main focus.

Today “Matt” has his own apartment. He has a job and is back in school. He now knows that he can overcome any obstacle in his path. He is responsible for his own life and working towards his dreams.

I believe many of these positive changes in “Matt”’s life are a direct result of his involvement with CAT. Through CAT, “Matt” has a new support system, people who believe in and encourage him. Through CAT, “Matt” has someone in his corner. Through CAT, “Matt” has opportunities he never dreamed possible. Through CAT, “Matt” has improved self-confidence, social intelligence, self-control and resiliency. This past summer “Matt” joined us as a leader on a CAT program. My heart beamed with pride as I watched him lead, support and encourage his peers.

I am so excited to be able to pour into the lives of more young people like “Matt”! That is why I want to work for CAT.

Outside of CAT, you can find me running, playing soccer, eating and trying to find ways to make the Chicago weather warmer. Thank you for believing in CAT and for joining us in our zany efforts to make this world a better place!

Much love,

Laura

 

A Quick Note:

While CAT has needed a fulltime Program Director for many years, our funding has always prevented us from hiring one. To solve this issue, Laura is raising her entire salary. She has asked her friends and family to partner with her by supporting her financially. All of the funds to pay Laura come from individual donors who have designated their contributions for her salary. She is delighted to have the support of so many people who believe in this work and who are committed to using their lives and financial gifts to serve others.

If you wish to donate to Chicago Adventure Therapy, either to support the General Fund or Laura Statesir’s salary, please go to our Donate page.

Gitchi Gumee 2014

Sweetwater Kayak Symposium trip Report, by Cory Kazawitch

 

The Sweet Water Sea Kayak Symposium is an excellent opportunity for paddlers from all over the country and of all skill levels to get coaching and meet others who share their passion.

After two long days of traveling the interstates and living off truck stops we finally got to St Pete. We were welcomed with a perfect little cottage complete with a porch swing at a local KOA. Our campground was right around the corner from a dock leading to the mangroves and just up the street from our first launch spot. At dinner, I tried pipos and found out I love Cuban food.

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The first day was a little chilly but awesome anyway. We pulled up bright, early and thoroughly caffeinated. We took down the yaks and Andrea introduced us to Cynthia Thompson, a fellow paddler and coach at Ladies of the Lake, and also the person who made this whole trip possible for us. We chatted with fellow paddlers and coaches from all over the country. After a while we all gathered around a picnic table, had a short brief about the plans for the day and launched off. I took bracing for my morning class and bracing on moving water for my second. I learned a lot about proper hand positioning in using high braces and catching yourself from capsizing and when correction is needed at full speed using my hips more than my paddle. Most importantly, I learned the importance of sunscreen!

Our last day was by far my favorite. The weather was perfect, sun shining, wind blowing to our backs, waves breaking to make for a slight challenge in getting past and onto the island. The perfect day for paddling! We began our 3 mile trip through the break and over the shipping lanes and met for lunch at Egmont Key. I took a nap on the beach for a while, something you don’t have the luxury of doing too often in Chicago, then back to sea and inbound back to the launch spot from the morning. A little over an hour later we were there and all headed to the last social of the trip.

11034330_10203064566168934_7082733179627423788_oWe met great coaches such as Sylvain Bedard! I can confidently say that after getting this experience under my belt that I feel much closer to being at BCU two star standard in time for my assessment in Baja a couple weeks from now. I had a great time and I hope I can come back next year, maybe assisting in leading a class myself.

 

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CORY KAZAWITCH
Sweetwater Sea Kayak Symposium
February 27th-March 1st
Saint Petersburg, Florida

Do you remember your first camping trip?  Roasting marshmallows around the campfire; watching shooting stars at night; being terrified of the creature outside your tent at night that must certainly have been a bear, and a REALLY big one – only to realize it was a raccoon.  … or a chipmunk.  Swimming in mountain lakes, skipping stones on any body of water you could find, climbing rocks and trees, eating food that may or may not have been good, but always tasted beyond amazing when you were eating it outdoors after a day in the sun or the rain…

Sometimes we get to create those touchstone experiences for the young people we work with.  They are invariably some of my favorite CAT programs.  Our most recent trip was to South Carolina for the East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival, with a young man who participated in the 2013 Gitchi Gumee Project – and this trip, too, was amazing.

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I don’t know whether my favorite thing about this trip was the 80 degree weather in early April, the hospitality of the organizers and coaches of the event, the variety of sports and craft that Jose got to try out, or the fact that, once again, I had the tremendous privilege and joy of introducing a young person to something brand new to him.  And then getting to show him even more of that sport – new skills, new crafts, new venues, a broader cross-section of the community…

I think, when it comes down to it, that what makes my favorite programs my favorites is this.   It’s about that same visceral, not quite speakable sense that comes with the smell of rain and the sound of it on my tent.  The years-long search for the perfect golden brown marshmallow, and a way to melt the chocolate for the S’more it will fill.

*     *     *     *     *

Jose was nervous about paddling when he joined us at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium for the Gtichi Gumee Project.  Some of our volunteers were worried, the first day, when he had a difficult time staying calm with a wet exit.  (A wet exit is a required skill when you paddle a sea kayak if you wear what’s called a spray skirt. The skirt keeps water from coming into the cockpit – it’s not so important, it turns out, to stay dry; but a skirt is helpful for the stability of the boat.  A boat filled with water handles sort of like a dishpan filled with water.  If you’ve ever tried to carry a full container of water, you know that once it starts sloshing, it just starts sloshing more.  It can be tricky to keep your balance in a boat that’s doing that.)

I worked with Jose for a good 30 to 45 minutes, helping him to find a way to stay calm as he dumped his boat over, pulled the skirt off his boat, and came back to the surface holding onto his boat and his paddle.  Two days later, he was surfing on Lake Superior.  The grin on his face touched the hearts of a whole lot of paddlers.  It was one of those rain-on-the-tent marshmallow moments that none of us quite had the words to describe.

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Jose can surprise you.  He’s very quiet, almost painfully shy.  It can be hard to tell if he understands a piece of technique you’re teaching him, whether or not he’s having a good time…  Then you watch him in a class on technique and realize he’s really quite talented, and is taking in everything the coach is saying.  He’ll tell you that he hopes he gets to come back to the event, and you realize, in the tone of his voice and the way he looks directly at you once he’s finished his sentence, that the event hasn’t just been fun for him; it has made an impact on his life.  You ask him what the best part of the trip was, and he says it was the rescue class.  You ask him why, and he says it was because the instructor trusted him to demonstrate how to stabilize a boat as the instructor climbed in and out, demonstrating a variety of entry strategies.  You hear him say that it “touched his heart” that the coach trusted him to do that.  Now, you realize why he wants to come back.  You begin to realize the nature of the impact this has had on his life.

*     *     *     *     *

Jose is very quiet.  Sometimes, when others are quiet, we want to talk.  When there is silence, we want to fill it.   — If we can listen into silence; if we can listen long enough to let someone else talk; if we can listen our young people into speech…

… if we can listen, we realize that our young people have something to say.  And that we will find our hearts split open

warmed and filled – touched, perhaps

at what they have to say.

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I got to accompany Jose on his first airplane trip and his first time seeing the ocean.  I got to teach him how to tip at dinner at the Baltimore Airport on our way home.  I got to paddle with a dolphin with him.  I got to watch him learn archery, struggle with short track mountain biking, learn to sail a kayak, practice a variety of rescues when he still doesn’t much like a wet exit, learn to move a boat with some precision, try out a surf ski and paddle a SUP board without falling down once.  I got to watch coaches take the time and care to coach him well; and to watch him experience trust.  My job was to accompany him.  To watch and to listen.

I got to listen him into speech.  And then I realized –  we’d had a rain-on-your-tent marshmallow trip.

In the midst of a very cold winter in Chicago, we just completed what might be my most favorite CAT program in our six years of programming.

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We met Fred and Greg* in July in the Gitchi Gumee Project – a group of 20 who went to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in July.  They came to us from The Night Ministry, one of our partner organizations that works with street-based youth.  They’ve both faced tremendous challenges and obstacles.  But here’s the thing – one of the things that gets my hackles up, and can set off a very LONG stint on my personal soap box, is when we, as well-meaning adults with privilege, see our youth first through the lens of the obstacles they face.  Being in a program can pigeonhole how other people see them – they’re “Homeless” first; they’re “Gang-Bangers;” children of immigrants, they’re “Illegal;” they’re “Bipolar” or “ADHD” or HIV-Postive.”       [* Fred and Greg have given their permission to use their real names]

In San Fransisco last week, at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, things went down differently.  A few of my fellow coaches were jealous of me because I get to call these two guys my students.

  • They were jealous because Fred and Greg have some of the GREATEST attitudes in the world!  They both capsized – well, they capsized more than most of the students – and they both just jumped right back in the boats, even more energized and motivated than before they dumped.
  • With backgrounds in gymnastics and dance, coupled with great fitness levels and a lot of physical strength, Fred and Greg have more natural ability than most paddling students we as coaches come across.  This fact was not lost on my fellow coaches.
  • They both have an uncanny ability to take direction.  With that huge natural talent they have, matched by a huge desire to learn more, they soak up every last suggestion, tip and challenge.  They’re eminently “coachable.”

This is what strengths-based youth development is about.  It’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.

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When I had the great good fortune to spend a month paddling on the West Coast a year ago, it changed me.  It also changed the way I think about CAT programming. Taking our young peoples’ strengths seriously means that we have to challenge them.  We have to give them the type of challenge that they can meet –  but not ace 100%.  Challenge that demands the very best of what they have to bring to it, and leaves them with so much still to work on.  For some of our young people, this means climbing to the top of the climbing wall in the gym, or climbing half-way up, or one body length up the wall.  For some, it means sleeping in a tent.  For some, it means paddling “out the Gate” in San Fransisco Bay, learning to peel out and eddy in at Yellow Bluff (a tide race that “goes off” on the ebb tide in the Bay), or getting worked in a rock gardening class or in waves that they eventually learn to surf…  It means preparing to teach and lead other young people.

It means challenging them to share what they’ve gained with others.  Fred and Greg are grateful for the experience.  Truly, it breaks my heart just a little bit how often I hear them say “thank you for believing in us.”  Or “I can’t believe we got to do this.”  Or “thank you for giving us these opportunities.  We would never get to do this.”

If it stops at gratitude, they are still those young men who face such great obstacles.  “At-risk kids” who don’t have access to the resources that so many kids do.

If they are deeply grateful for the experience, and use it to bring their very best to bear on the world – then they are young men with amazing strength and amazing skills that will change the world.  They are not “disadvantaged youth.”  Rather, they are powerful agents of change; a force for good that we ignore at our own, and the world’s, peril.

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After my own time paddling on the West Coast, I look at CAT programming with an eye towards how it will empower our young people to change the world.  What can we give them; and also, what will they give back.  They will do so much more for this world than ever I will.  To do it they have to know that they are not “at-risk kids,” but amazing young adults with so much to offer the world.

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I’d like to introduce you to Robert Weisberg, CAT’s newest board member.  Robert officially joined us  on the Board in December, but he’s been helping out since the summer.  I’m delighted that he accepted our invitation to join us.  Robert brings a tremendous enthusiasm coupled with practical, no-nonsense financial knowledge and project management skills.  Robert has already jumped head first into the details of cash flow and budgets, and also into the big picture of financial strategy.  Thanks for joining us Robert!

 Conversation with Robert:

What drew you to CAT?

As most people involved with CAT, I have a deep love of the outdoors. I have personally received many therapeutic benefits from outdoor activity, and I get really excited about creating similar opportunities for youth that otherwise do not have the means to do so. I learned of CAT through an event with the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, where I am an alumnus. After seeing Andrea speak for 5 minutes about CAT, I was hooked.

Employment

I do Strategy and Corporate Development for U.S. Cellular. In addition, I volunteer my time to local non-profits, typically in a financial management or development capacity.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Flying – it would be so easy to travel anywhere and everywhere.

Skills you bring to the leadership of CAT

Financial management, strategy, development, and goofiness

Favorite outdoor sport

This is a tough one for me to answer, but if forced to pick only one, it would be running. My morning runs are my solace and strength and it would be incredibly difficult for me to give them up. I also love hiking/backpacking, camping, and beach volleyball.

Your most admired historical figure; and what they would like about CAT

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think he would be most proud of the fact that CAT’s work helps to foster non-violence in our community.

Favorite quote

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… Before you finish eating breakfast, you’ve depended on more than half the world. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Robert Weisberg

Robert Weisberg

Nelson-Mandela’s-Top-Five-Contributions-to-Humanity
Nelson Mandela died yesterday.

A man who, as our own President said a few hours later, “took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

As photos and news stories, quotes and tributes began to fill the internet, I, like many others, found myself looking at memories.

And then, an interesting thing started to happen. A few articles started to appear that said, essentially, “let’s remember ALL of history.” Let’s remember Nelson Mandela’s full story.  Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years because justice does not come easily. Equality does not arrive on its own.

For many of us of a certain age, Nelson Mandela may have been the person who was the impetus for some of our first forays into political action. A friend reminisced about avoiding Coca Cola products in high school and college, as part of the boycotts of corporations invested in South Africa. In 8th grade, I added a “Divest Now” button to my store of political buttons. We boycotted and called for divestment because our own country was fully complicit in practices and policies that upheld Apartheid.

People – whether individuals, countries or corporations – rarely give up privilege, convenience or wealth voluntarily. And so Mandela, a Freedom Fighter, was a prisoner before he was the President; he was dubbed a “terrorist” before he was honored as a “statesman.”

I was reminded of how much easier it is to claim heroes as our own after they have “won” than while they are fighting. Had Nelson Mandela died in the 1960’s or the 1980’s, at the beginning and in the midst of his struggle for justice and for equality in South Africa,  few Americans and few American organizations would have paid tribute to him the way we did yesterday.  Even the best lawyers cannot stand resolutely for justice when it is not yet the law of the land takes a courage, perseverance and vision that few people have.  And it requires risking more than most of us are willing to risk.

Whatever the challenge, whatever the risk – our kids in Chicago need us to summon some small piece of Nelson Mandela’s vision; some fraction of his courage; and as much perseverance as we possibly can. Our kids are not just “making bad decisions.” They are struggling mightily in situations stacked against them.
• Some of the kids we work with grow up with no examples of options beyond the gangs that dominate their neighborhood
• Some of the kids we work with are thrown out of their homes in adolescence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
• Some of the kids we work with come from families without the money for college, and have no access to financial aid or to military service – both of which sometimes provide access to college for kids who can’t afford it – because they are not citizens
• Most of the kids we work with live in poverty
• Most of the kids we work with experience systemic racism every day

These are questions of justice. We want to help our kids make good decisions, develop positive self-esteem, learn solid problem-solving skills, become good team members and communicators. But this is not enough. Our kids need justice. They need equal access to a solid education, to the resources of this city, to not just adequate but good health care. The list goes on…

Yesterday, President Obama said “His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings—& countries—can change for the better.” We share Obama’s words with you today in the hope that our own country, and our own City, can change for the better.

“The day…he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when…guided by their hopes rather than…fears.” At CAT, we hope to have the courage and the vision to stand for justice now, when our kids need us to.  When, in this city, it is not yet easy.

What our kids can do, when guided by hopes, not fears, will be something to stand back and watch. Because we work with some of the most amazing young people in this city – and we’ve seen what they can do when they walk past their fears.

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August 7, 2013
We’ve had a busy summer.  We want to tell you all about it – but instead we’re going to tell you about one special weekend.  What you’ll find below are some excerpts from what the organizers of the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium had to say about the Gitchi Gumee Project –  a project we helped pilot last year, that was even more exciting and successful this year.
Enthusiastic paddler
THE GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT
In July of 2012 the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium created a pilot program to bring inner city youth from Chicago to experience the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and to learn the sport of sea kayaking.  Our goal was to immerse our youth into our existing program, guiding them through the skills of kayaking, camping, and the kayak community.  The experience was an overwhelming success for the organizers as well as the participants.  Who do we thank for this year’s success?  Paddle Sports Industry leader Kokatat – who stepped up to the plate and funded a good portion of our pilot program and made these kids’ dreams possible!
The Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium is seeking funding from the Paddle Sports Industry to develop and maintain a kayak program for inner city youth. As we introduce our young people to a  sport that would usually be closed to them, we believe it to be an ethical imperative to help keep access open to the sport and the community in which it takes place for every young person who wants to do more of it.
The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, racial and ethnic minorities will compose about half of the country’s population. Racial and ethnic minorities have traditionally been under-represented as visitors to national parks. An example, a recent survey of a representative sample of Americans found that 32 percent of whites had visited a national park in the last two years compared to only 13 percent of blacks.  Let’s face it….the sport of sea kayaking is a very white sport and we are determined to change that.
Surfing
2013 GREAT LAKES SEA KAYAK SYMPOSIUM RECAP
At Chicago Adventure Therapy, we work with under-served youth using outdoor skills to build life skills.  It sounds a little bit dry, in the way that good social work missions can sound.  The way it plays out, at its best, is that we get to watch young people do what they believed to be impossible.
It’s fantastic when we watch young people climb to the top of an outdoor climbing wall and look out over the top of Chicago; or when we help them paddle out around the end of a pier jutting 200 yards into Lake Michigan, and they see the Chicago skyline from a perspective they’ve never seen, and feel as though they paddled to Alaska, for the challenge and exhilaration it provides.
We’ve been looking for ways to introduce our young people to the communities that gather around the sports we introduce them to – so we were all in when Bill Thompson and Down Wind Sports invited us to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in 2012.  We invited Lynette Spencer, Executive Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, to join us, Kokatat stepped in as the first sponsor, and the Gitchi Gumee Project was born in a small pilot that was amazing to watch.
Getting familiar with the boats
This year, in 2013, we expanded the pilot for Gitche Gumee 2 –  a group of 20 people (11 young people and 9 adults) from Chicago, DeKalb and Detroit.  Our planning started by thinking about how to make sure the group of kids from three different places had the opportunity to become a single group instead of three.  We struggled to get the gear to outfit the whole group for Lake Superior paddling – but this was something that needed to happen, so we made it happen with help from a number of outfitters, and even more individuals.
When we arrived in Grand Marais, volunteers helped the kids set up their tents, while three additional coaches helped Andrea unload all the boats, fit donated spray skirts to the boats, assign kids to boats and adjust the fit and then reload all the boats so we could paddle in a different location the next morning.  This was just the first example of many when the paddling community came together to make this happen.
For some of the kids, this was when they realized they were going to get to kayak, not “listen to boring lectures about kayaking,” as one young person put it at our closing bonfire.  There was rain that first night, and several people who woke up to wet sleeping bags.  We pulled out sleeping bags to dry, re-set tents, and headed indoors instead of outdoors for the first part of the beginning kayaking class – whose ranks of 5 we swelled to 25!  The afternoon found us at Grand Sable Lake, where coaches Chris Delridge and Jim Palermo deftly presided over a long discovery learning session.  The wind kept us at a gentle beach, and the group practiced wet exits, scrambles, T-rescues and paddling.  When they paddled back against the wind to the launch, I was surprised to see the improvement in their skills.
One young man in particular inspired everyone who saw him.  We’ll call him Ricardo.  Ricardo had a panic attack with his first wet exit.  A coach with the group and a social worker with the group brought the incident to the attention of Andrea while a volunteer worked with him to paddle short distances.  Eventually we spent about 45 minutes with Ricardo, working on a step by step sequence to get him back to doing a wet exit.  After paddling, stepping out of his boat in shallow water, deliberately putting his face in the water for longer and longer time periods, holding a coach’s hand while he practiced letting his PFD float him on his back, on his stomach and with his face in the water – after all this he did a several full on wet exits.  A very quiet young man, the grin on his face was subtle.  Two days later he surfed 2+ foot waves with Danny Mongno – and his grin was anything but subtle!
Smiles
Two of the coaches who worked with the group that day reflected on the experience:
•    This program shows the power of outdoor activities to motivate, to challenge, and to open up lines of communication in children from various backgrounds. To see the shy and introverted smile and show excitement and self-confidence, the normally self-centered helping others, or one afraid of water rolling three days later…wow, what a feeling.  (Chris Delridge, Riverside Kayak Connection)
•    I was not sure what I’d expected being with the kids from CAT and Detroit. What I found was that these kids were some of the most delightful, thankful, and appreciative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being with. The benefit I believe they received from the project this year was immense. I saw huge gains in self confidence, skill, problem solving, and reaching out to other people. This
project has got to go on and expand way beyond it’s current state. (Jim Palermo, West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association)
One of the most challenging parts of the trip came that evening, with severe thunderstorms that brought sideways rain and waterspouts on Lake Superior.  As the storm continued with incredible force, we got permission to sleep inside in the community center.  But when the rain subsided while it was still light out, we discovered that with the exception of one tent that was in the middle of a puddle, all the rest stayed dry.  The young Detroit man in that 2-person tent (the young man who’d spent so much time with wet exits) moved in with the two young men from Chicago in a larger tent, and everyone decided to sleep outside.  One girl was still wary of sleeping in the tents that night – so her older sister, sleeping in a tent by herself, invited her to share a tent.  We have to report, there was a lot of giggling coming from that tent that night and the rest of the nights we were there!  This was the first time ever sleeping in a tent for many of the young people – so they had to dig pretty deep to make that call – especially since we warned them that more rain was coming overnight.  More rain did come, the tents stayed dry, and people woke up happy.
The next day, everyone took different classes.  Some people took Ben Lawry’s forward stroke class – the evidence is still on our paddles in the form of electrical tape…  Some took a bracing class, some took a boat control class, one person took a rolling class, some people took a rescue and towing class, one person took Danny Mongno’s all day “open water adventure” class – both he and Danny came back raving about each other and the class – and the young man may have some good leads towards a job in the outdoor industry.  Another girl successfully nailed her angel roll – reports vary that she did it from 4 times to 10 times.
John Browning, a coach well known in the Milwaukee area for offering ACA IDW’s and ICE’s around the Midwest, worked with a large percentage of the group on bracing and boat control.  He writes:
This was the second year that I had the pleasure of working with participants of the Gitchi Gummee Project at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. And again this year I came away with hope in my heart for the participants. I’m often exposed to the perils of inner-city youth while working in urban EMS, and I see the hopelessness they are faced with – I often say afterwards that “they don’t have a chance”.  The participants of the Gitchi Gummee Project are provided with opportunities and skills that give them a chance to break out of the web of poverty, dispair and racism. On Friday I had the honor to work with many of them in the morning for a bracing class. This required them to overcome the usual fears of capsize. And, in the afternoon I had many of them in a boat control class. Both of these classes gave them the base of skills, and the confidence, that allowed them to take on the open waters of Lake Superior on Saturday. To see the photos of the expressions on their faces as they surfed the waves is priceless! I’ve always tried to make a difference in others, I believe that with the Gitchi Gummee Project I’ve made a difference, and they in turn made a difference in those of us privileged enough to have worked with them. Programs like this are necessary to the survival of inner city youth. They are our future and we cannot turn our back on them. If they are game to try sea kayaking, or any number of other adventure outdoor activities, there are many of us willing to step forward and help them. The outdoor industry should whole heartedly support such programs. It’s the right thing to do, and is good for all.
Not to call that a full day yet, we ended the day with bar-b-qued chicken made over a fire on the beach, followed by s’mores and the Big Dipper.  The stars are always a hit with the Gitche Gumee Project!
Danny
The next day, most of the group spent all day with Danny Mongno.  Most had just paddled the first time two days before – and today they completed T-rescues, unconscious person rescues, paddled out beyond the breakwall, jumped off the breakwall after their boats and scrambled in, and went to the outside beach to surf their boats.  There were only 10 other participants at the symposium who got into the surf that day.  One of the coaches working with the group was jealous of Ricardo’s surfing skill.  Every last person there commented on the face-splitting grin plastered all over his face when he caught a nice long ride.
Jumping off the break wall
Lori Stegmier, a coach from Michigan, reflected that she too was nervous to work with the group.
“I was a little reluctant to work with the program at first. I’m more comfortable with adults than I am with teens. However they told me there was a need for an adult female role model so I agreed. How wrong I was. Those kids were amazing to the point where I came close to tears several times. Days later I am still re-living it and sharing the story of the impact those amazing kids had on me. Sign me up for next year.
Two people there for the symposium took the morning off to give two young people a tour of the UP.  One had a bum knee, and the other wanted a break from paddling.  They came back ecstatic about the log slide from the timber industry days, and excited about how to tell the difference between different types of maples.  Go figure – a Chicago girl waxing eloquent about the leaves on different types of maples – from a girl who couldn’t pick out a maple from any other tree before this trip.
At the pasty dinner Saturday night, one of the girls from Detroit won the raffle for registration for two for the East Coast Paddle Fest.  “Maria” wants to take her sister.  Before the event was over, we’d had offers from three different sources to cover her air fair or get it covered – and at the time of writing we’ve had offers from 5 sources.  Andrea is planning to go as well, in order to help “Maria” and her sister navigate the symposium.
The weekend ended with a bonfire on the beach.  When people were asked to thank one person for something they did over the weekend, most people thanked everyone.  There were tears around the fire, lots of thank you’s for specific moments and for the opportunity, and lots of laughter.
Fun on the beach in the evening
Post Symposium Coach/Staff Interviews
The young people and all of the adults with us were pleased, and the young people were surprised, at the very warm welcome our whole group received.  It would have been easy for them to meet with condescending or patronizing attitudes.  They all noticed that there was very little racial
diversity among the rest of the symposium’s attendees.  That could have ended up being a very uncomfortable position for them – either because they weren’t genuinely welcome and were treated with suspicion; or because people could have been overly enchanted with them precisely because of their race.  What happened instead was that this community welcomed them with open arms.  They remembered our youth from one class to the next.  Coaches and other students alike treated our young people with respect and warmth, and gave them the very best they had to give.
Jeremy Vore, one of the coaches at the event, was especially wonderful with our group.   When I thanked him, he said this:
People like Steve Lutsch, Stan Chladek, Doug VanDoren, Nigel Dennis, and Michael Grey all
welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago.
I’d like to give that back in some way.  Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you or the kids. I’d very much like to see them come back. The GLSKS is a magical thing for teenagers.
Jeremy continues – We also enjoyed the return of the Gitchi Gumme Project’s Chicago and Detroit youth, who ranged from 13 through 22 years of age. All told, there were 16 participants who camped through torrential rains and gale force winds, suffered bug bites, and paddled in conditions ranging from flat calm to 2+ foot surf. At the end, every single one of them was smiling and energized. I wonder if they realize that they energized the instructors and other participants, too, with their enthusiasm and complete engagement?
If you want to know just how remarkable they were, ask headline instructor Danny Mongno from Werner Paddles. He took them out on Saturday, the roughest, most challenging day of the Symposium. They paddled in conditions, jumped off the breakwall, did all-in rescues, and surfed in open water outside the harbor. And they did it with passion, excitement, and skill! Some of them had only been paddling for a couple of days, yet they handled their kayaks in the surf like much more experienced paddlers, faced their fears, and came away from it with huge smiles and – I hope – a sense of accomplishment.
At the Saturday pasty dinner, Danny said that it had been his best day of instruction, ever. That was my experience when I worked with the Gitchi Gumme Project participants in 2012, too. And it wasn’t because they were from the inner city, were part of some special program, or didn’t fit the usual demographic for sea kayakers. No, their impact is due entirely to the way that they hit the water with open eyes, open minds, and 120% commitment. We could all learn a lot from them.
How was the 2013 program possible?  By paddle sports industry leader Kokatat stepping up to the plate and making these kids dreams possible!
Jim Palermo, who worked with the group the first day, asked me about what happens when they kids return to their “normal” lives.  He was right to have concern – one of the other things we heard around the campfire was “I don’t want to go home.”
Workers at other agencies where the kids receive services notice a difference when the kids return. Here’s what one partner had to say:
Andrea,
It seems like it was such a huge success! Two participants came back RAVING about how awesome it was, and both said it was life-changing. And that you’re hoping to develop a youth leadership program with them?
I’m so excited for them, and for the chance they had this week. It seems like it was an incredible  incredible experience. It sounds like it was really powerful. And like something neither of them would have expected to get to do. I am so grateful that you reached out to us in this. Am curious to hear anything you have to share whenever you settle back in whenever you have time!
We don’t think this is enough, so plans are in the works for follow up.  Chicago Adventure Therapy and Adventure Works of DeKalb both work with young people year round closer to home.  We also have plans for follow up with this particular group of young people.  Future plans include:
•    August 6 – Chicago Gitchi Gumee reunion, paddling – we had a great evening paddle Monday, and started laying the plans for a Leadership Institute for a few of the older participants (another evening paddle is planned for August 19)
•    August 28 – Detriot Gitchi Gumee reunion, paddling – Riverside Kayak Connection, Chris Delridge, Jim Palermo and Andrea; invitation to end the day with an evening paddle for the whole community, hosted by RKC
•    Feb 7-9, 2014 – full group ice climbing in the UP with Bill and Arnie of Down Wind Sports?
Boat info from Danny
Post Symposium Kids Interviews
“All the instructors’ positive encouragement was really helpful.  I could be sitting on the water just paddling and random comments would just come my way about how I’m doing good or improving; its really an emotional boost and great to help keep pushing yourself. And you know people out there you might not even know very well care about you and have your back on the water.”  — age 17, DeKalb, Illinois
“Before I came to Grand Marais [GLSKS] I didn’t even know what a kayak was, how to use it, how to stay afloat, or even how to paddle. I had doubts about doing it. I thought ‘what if I look bad doing this’ but I have to say Grand Marais [GLSKS] taught me one thing, it doesn’t matter unless you’re having fun. I learned so much there because of these people. They were all great and I’m
definitely coming back for more. Thank you guys.” — age 15, DeKalb, Illinois
“Whenever u get the time let us know. Im estatic about practicing and critiquing my skills. We can go ASAP. LOve you and thanks again for the life changing opportunity” (this young man hopes to work in the paddlesports industry!)  — age 22, Chicago, IL
Fun with Cindy Scherrer, winner of the Symposium Race
Thank you Kokatat for
sponsoring the
2013 Gitche Gumee Project!
 

GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS

Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) directly engages urban youth in outdoor activities, using the underutilized outdoor resources in Chicago to help youth have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults.  We use sea kayaking, climbing, navigation and cycling, as well as camping and a few winter sports programs, to build life skills.  We particularly concentrate on communication skills, accountability and reliability, problem-solving skills and decision-making skills.  We see young people face deep-seated fears and develop increased self confidence.  We have also seen an increase in empathy in the young people we have a chance to work with over a longer period of time.
Andrea Knepper, the founder and director of CAT, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a sea kayak coach and a wilderness guide.  The juxtaposition of these experiences provided the idea and motivation for CAT.  She writes, “Leading affluent people on vacations in the wilderness, I sometimes watched it change their lives.  Over the course of a week-end, a 6-year-old girl on one of the family trips I led went from being terrified to paddle a double kayak with her father to demanding a single of her own.  She spent the last day of the trip paddling her own boat, lounging on the top of it, posing as the bowsprit, and chasing turtles.  At the end of the trip, her father was near tears as he tried to express the impact this two day trip had on his daughter.  At the time, I was working at a Community Mental Health Center.  One of my adolescent clients, diagnosed with bi-polar disorer and ADHD, couldn’t stop opening and closing desk drawers, turning the lamp on and off, spinning the chair around and around.  He was frequently loud and inappropriate.  If I went for a walk with him, he immediately stopped being disruptive and was remarkably vulnerable about his hopes and his fears. I founded Chicago Adventure Therapy in order to be able to be able to work with clients like this young man, providing experiences like the weekend camping trip provided for the 6 year old girl.  With trained clinicians, we can facilitate change deliberately in the outdoors, instead of accidentally on a vacation.”
The youth we work with face a myriad of obstacles.  We work with young people experiencing homelessness; who identify as LGBTQ; who live in poverty; who experience a variety of violence; who experience prejudice everyday because of the color of their skin or their national origin; who are gang-involved; who are wards of the state; or who simply don’t have access to the resources we wish every child and young adult could access.  For many of them, it would be impossible to participate in the sports we use in our programming.
Adventure Works strives to assist at-risk youth in becoming healthy adults by providing timely intervention through adventure therapy.  A brand new non-profit, Adventure Works, an adventure therapy program serving at-risk youth ages 11-18 (6th-12th grades), provides healthy outdoor programming with activities such as hiking, climbing, or paddling. These experiences provide the youth with challenges pertaining to confidence, interpersonal relationships, team
building and problem-solving, among others, and these skills then transfer to their everyday lives.

If you get our monthly emails, you know that we recently welcomed five new members to our Board of Directors.  Today we’re introducing you to two of our returning members.  Keep checking back here – we’ll be introducing all of our Board members, new and returning.

 

Keisha Farmer-Smith

When I first met Keisha in 2009, the first thing that impressed me about her was how fully she embodied the practice of youth empowerment and of creating truly youth-led programming.  At the time she was the manager of one of our partner programs – and unlike any other contact person, she asked the young people to vote about whether they would like to enter into programming with CAT.  I was so impressed!  I was invited to give a brief presentation about Adventure Therapy, what type of programming we might do over the summer, and what they could expect from it.  After the presentations (with two groups of young people), they voted.  (They voted yes – I was so pleased!)  I have continued to be impressed by Keisha’s dedication to youth empowerment and her deep respect for young people.  Keisha also has experience consulting for non-profits.  Her extensive network in the non-profit community, her unwavering commitment to Chicago youth, her knowledge of non-profit management, and her ongoing loyalty and dedication to CAT have earned her my deep respect and appreciation.  I am so pleased to welcome Keisha as a returning Board member.

Conversation with Keisha:

What drew you to CAT?
I loved the energy of the staff and the simple, but powerful idea of exposing and exploring new, interactive and fun activities like indoor rock climbing and kayaking to young people.

Employment:
Director of Programs and Quality Assurance and Family Focus Inc.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?:
Probably the power to bend minds to do my will- like Charlie’s father in Stephen King’s Firestarter.

Favorite outdoor sport: swimming

Skills you bring to the leadership of CAT
I bring over 15 years of youth development programming experience, grant writing experience and program evaluation skills.

Your most admired historical figure; and what they would like about CAT
I have so many- this is a difficult question to answer.  One is certainly Shirley Chisholm- the 1st African American woman elected to Congress

Favorite quote:

one of my favorite quotes and affirmations is  “I am, was, and always will be a catalyst for change.”     ~ Shirley Chisholm

 

Keisha Farmer-Smith

Keisha Farmer- Smith

Beth Santos

Beth is an incredibly active and enthusiastic Board member.  She is always willing to step up to whatever challenge presents itself, whether scheduling meetings for a group of very busy people, designing a new fundraising campaign, or volunteering to serve on a committee.  Beth has a nuanced understanding of CAT’s mission and benefit; she has extensive experience in and a deep love for the outdoors; she’s an accomplished athlete; and she has experience working in domestic and foreign non-profits.  The talents and knowledge she brings to CAT are rounded out by her current enrollment in Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, with a concentration in social enterprise.  One of the greatest things about Beth is her cheerful demeanor; Beth is friendly to everyone, always supportive, and brings a positive spin to any situation.  She’s the type of person who’s presence in a group makes the group function better than it would without her.  I am deeply appreciative of Beth’s activity with CAT’s board and pleased to welcome her as a returning board member.

Conversation with Beth:

What drew you to CAT?
Having grown up in New Hampshire, I’d always taken nature for granted. For me, it was everywhere. Since leaving for college, I’ve lived in a number of rural and urban places, and it’s been interesting to see the dynamic between a big city and its surrounding ecosystem. Not only do I think that the natural world is good for the soul, but I’m also a huge fan of the social, developmental and cognitive growth that occurs with team sports. I rowed crew for nearly six years and coached high school rowing for two years in Washington DC, and I’ve seen first-hand how rowing can bring a diverse group of teens together. I’d love for kids in the Chicago area to get that same experience, especially considering the fact that outdoor sports often aren’t cheap!

Employment:
I work at Rotary International, a large non-profit with headquarters in Evanston. As a Regional Grant Officer, I review grant applications submitted by Rotarians that request funding anywhere from $30,000-$200,000 for them to conduct service projects in the Caribbean and Latin America, especially Brazil.

By night, I’m the founder and editor-in-chief of Go Girl, an online magazine and community for women travelers. We host over 6,000 readers per month based in 110 countries around the world, and have recently launched meetup groups in Chicago and Boston for women travelers to connect with one another and their local community.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?:
Teleportation (and to teleport someone with me, too)! Lunch in Florence, dinner in Paris, after-dinner dancing in the streets of Port-au-Prince…sounds good to me!

Favorite outdoor sport:
I suppose the fact that I rowed and coached for nearly eight years is a dead giveaway. I have a deep love for the art of rowing, which is a very complex sport that is incredibly gratifying. One of my favorite elements is the team aspect – the requirement that each rower depend fully on the person in front of them or behind them. I think it’s a very beautiful concept.

When I’m not rowing, I do enjoy a good kayak or hike in the woods!

Skills you bring to the leadership of CAT
I’ve worked in the non-profit world during almost my entire career, in a variety of sizes and forms. Before Rotary, I worked for an organization that developed digital learning curricula in Haiti and around the Caribbean, and before that I worked for a small non-profit in São Tomé e Príncipe, off the west coast of Africa. Currently, I’m studying for my MBA and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, with focuses on entrepreneurship/innovation and social enterprise. Kellogg’s social enterprise curriculum is highly regarded, and social enterprise in general is a hot topic these days. I hope these experiences can be of use to CAT in its endeavor to grow and support youth around the city.

Favorite quote:

“It’s a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired.  You quit when the gorilla is tired.”   — Robert Strauss

beth profile

Beth Santos

If you get our monthly emails, you know that we’ve recently welcomed five new members to our Board of Directors.  Today we’re introducing you to two of them.  Keep checking back here – we’ll be introducing all of our Board members, new and returning.

 

Christopher Moore

I’m pleased to introduce Christopher Moore, one of the newest members of CAT’s Board of Directors.  Christopher’s deep commitment to young people in Chicago is an inspiration.  He brings a unique combination of skills to CAT.  He has a passion for the outdoors, an understanding of how outdoor experiences can be transformative, experience leading and creating outdoor programs, and a degree in Park and Recreation Administration.  Christopher’s outdoor background and experience is matched, even surpassed, by his deep and varied experience and leadership in the field of youth development, working as front-line staff, supervisor and program manager in a variety of settings including transitional living programs, residential treatment, alternative education and youth centers.  CAT is unique in that it exists in a space that is squarely within the non-profit world, and squarely within the outdoor world; Christopher inhabits that same unique space.    — And he’s one of the nicest people we’ve ever met!  It is an absolute pleasure to welcome Christopher to CAT’s Board of Directors.

Conversation with Chris:

What drew you to CAT?  My Wife
Employment:  Site Director, Lawrence Hall Youth Services
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?  Teleportation
Skills you bring to the leadership of CAT  Event planning, marketing , community relations
Favorite outdoor sport  Swimming
Your most admired historical figure; and what they would like about CAT  Major Taylor (World Champion Cyclist) – He would love that urban youth would be introduced to cycling
 Favorite quote:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ~ Barack Obama

 

Chicago Adventure Therapy Board of Directors

Board orientation April 14 – CAT timeline

 

Marianne Moroney

Marianne Moroney has been an active an enthusiastic volunteer with CAT since 2011.  Marianne has expertise in sales and marketing in a variety of industries; a degree in Psychology; experience working in the outdoor industry right here in Chicago; and is active in the world of non-profit volunteering and networking.  Marianne has helped with a variety of CAT events as a volunteer, including helping to organize an event with volunteers from Discover Card last August, and securing Stand-Up Paddle Boards for volunteers to play with after the event.  I am grateful for  Marianne’s infectious energy and her remarkable dedication to CAT.  I couldn’t be more pleased to be welcoming her to CAT’s Board of Directors.

Conversation with Marianne:

What drew you to CAT?
My love for the outdoors and my passion to help teach and heal at-risk youth. I’m inspired by Andrea’s and CATs commitment of time, energy and empowerment they give every day to Chicago’s under served youth.

Employment:
I work for Discovery Student Adventures, part of Discovery Communications and Discovery Education. Discovery Student Adventures offers educational travel to over 13 exciting destinations for students and educators. Our adventures to places like Yellowstone and the Tetons, Costa Rica, Europe, South Africa, China and Australia/ New Zealand all feature elements of adventure, science education, service, cultural immersion and behind-the-scenes access. My love for travel, adventure and educating youth makes it easy to love my job!

Favorite outdoor sport:
I can’t pick just one! I love biking, kayaking, Stand-UP-Paddleboarding, mountain hiking, camping… really anything that allows me to bask in the warmth of the sun and the natural beauty of our world. I always love a challenge so I will continue to work on my golf game this season!

Skills you bring to the leadership of CAT
I look forward to helping to raise awareness and community support of CAT’s mission by sharing the importance of the work we do with our city’s youth. I am elated and honored to keep working with Andrea and CAT going forward and making 2013 a great year!

Superpower:

If I could choose a superpower I’d use it to create a peaceful and loving world (Does that count as a superpower?) I know it sounds cliche but it’s how I feel. And if enough people work together and commit to making a peaceful society, maybe it won’t need to be a superpower after all.  🙂

Marianne in the desert

Marianne in the desert