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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.  To 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

February 20, 2013

I have had the great good fortune, because of the hard work and dedication of our staff and board members, to get to spend a month paddling on the West Coast.  Before I tell you about it, I hope you’ll humor me and go first to the scene of a climbing program a couple years ago.

Here’s the scene:

A tall, lanky young man is about two to three body-lengths up the wall.  He climbed there quickly and elegantly.  Now, though, he’s stopped.  He curls into himself and begins to shake.  He starts to look down, and we can see that he’s crying.  A chorus of shouts, coming from every last person on the floor of the climbing wall, demands “DON’T LOOK DOWN!”

 

 

He stops.

He makes himself as small as he can – squeezing his arms to his chest, squeezing his legs together, squeezing his eyes tightly closed.  Multiple shouts erupt now.  “Don’t look down!”  “You can do it!”  “Put your right foot on the blue hold!”

He’s stuck there a while longer.  Then he wrenches his head upwards, (we assume he opens his eyes), and this time, he climbs to the top of the wall.

 *     *     *     *     *

Fast forward a few years to San Francisco Bay, just last month.

We’ve “gone out the Gate,” as they say – which means we’re on the ocean side of the Golden Gate Bridge.  I’m in the water next to my boat.  After watching three other students, I clip my tow line to the deck line at the bow of my boat and swim toward the cliff, my boat following on tow.  There’s a ledge above the water, and another one below it that gets covered and uncovered with the swell.  I watch the water go up and down; and eventually head in to the cliff, put my hands on the cliff wall above me, grasping it ever so lightly because of the mussels attached to it.  I put my feet on the lower ledge.  As the swell comes over the ledge, it lifts me gently to a standing position, my hands on the cliff wall at chest level now instead of over my head.  I step up to the next ledge, and then one ledge higher.  When the next swell comes, I discover I’ve successfully landed on a cliff face two feet above the swells.

I spend some time watching as the water rises and falls below me.  Eventually I jump back into the water, swim my boat out from the cliff, and get back in.  I have to get one of my fellow students to un-clip my tow line because I’ve left it clipped to the bow of my boat where I can’t reach it!

Steve, one of the coaches, moves us along to the next challenges.  We paddle as close as we can to powerful dumping waves (a dumping wave releases all of its power at once, straight down in a powerful wall of water; these aren’t the gorgeous spilling waves that release their energy gradually over both time and distance, somewhat forgiving if you happen to get yourself in the impact zone…).  We paddle as close to the cliffs as we can, in and around rocks, look for the perfect timing for runs in slots between rocks when the swell will carry us through, over rocks that will be exposed 30 seconds later when the swell has passed.

This Midwest girl falls behind, unable to quickly read the interaction of Pacific swell and rock.  Steve and the other coach Jen have a short conversation while I watch a few swells come through the next slot before I run it.  Jen paddles back to me to tell me that the rest of the group is going to go on and we’ll spend the time I need to watch the swell at each feature – to find me crying after successfully running the slot.  I’m having an amazing time; in a month’s time the Pacific has changed my soul with its swell, its salt and its wildness.  But it’s just too much information, too much stimulus that I have to respond to, too much new experience to process in too short a time.  I’m exhausted and overwhelmed, and poor Jen finds herself confronted with a student who’s tearful for most of the rest of the afternoon.

Like the young man on the wall, I’m at my limit.  Like the group of other young people on the floor of the climbing wall, Jen gets me past my limit and beyond.  When we launch from a nasty dumping beach after lunch, several people get caught by the sucking of the waves racing back to the sea into the wall of water of the next wave.  I time it right and use a good strategy; when I’m past the break Steve remarks, as I drop from my back deck to the seat of my boat, that I had a better launch than he did.

 *     *     *     *     *

Fast forward another two weeks, and I’m back in Chicago listening to my priest and fellow paddler Bonnie Perry talk about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Rabbi Heschel tells us that people must experience wonder, they must have mountain top experiences, in order to develop the passion and stamina to work for social justice.  I look at my hands, with their already-fading but still distinct drysuit tan lines – the bottom of my hands pale where the sleeves of my waterproof clothing covered them for a month of paddling, the rest of them tanned brown and cracked.  It’s a visceral, kinesthetic reminder of the mountain top experience I just had.  And mountain top it was.  I paddled with migrating gray whales in San Diego where I watched one just yards from my boat repeatedly lift its massive head out of the water and dive deep; in Baja California where one swam right under my boat, so close I could see the barnacles on its back; and in San Francisco, where one came right in under the Golden Gate Bridge, playing in the same ebb current we were playing in.  I paddled in Mexico through little slots between rocks, across overfalls that you have to time to ride with the swell or get stuck on the rocks that create the feature, among huge sea stacks with giant Pacific swell.  I saw gorgeous, long period waves breaking at Point Loma at the entrance of San Diego Bay; and waves jacking up to huge heights out of nowhere against the ebb current, breaking in slow motion all the way across the shipping channel under the Golden Gate Bridge.  I paddled at night in San Diego Bay with the city lights as the backdrop, successfully finding the spots Jen had set us to find – including the dock at the restaurant where dinner and a beer were waiting.  I saw beauty in some of its wildest, most inspiring forms; and at its most serene.  And I landed on a cliff wall.

 

 

 *     *     *     *     *

I am reminded of that young man who stopped on the wall, came down multiple times, kept getting back on the wall, cried and shook and squeezed himself up as small as he could get – and then climbed to the top of the wall.  I’m reminded of other young people in our programming who have mountain top experiences; who do what they thought was impossible.  The young man who describes seeing the whole of Chicago from the top of the outdoor climbing wall; the young woman who describes watching the “water just open out in front” of her kayak.

The mountaintop takes courage.  To get there, you have to risk not being good enough.  You have to risk falling or failing, or just falling behind.  You have to risk fear.  You have to risk depending on someone else for help.

When you get there, it delivers joy.  It holds a mirror to your finest, bravest, most joyful self; and demands that you live into it.

 

The best part of my job is watching when this happens for our young people.  As one young woman said, “I have learned to be a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.”  Rabbi Heschel is right.  The mountaintop demands our best self; our best work.  Just as for that young woman, my own mountaintop demands that I be “a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go.”   It demands that I continue to work to make this city safer for our kids; that I work to make sure they have access to the resources they need regardless of their race, their socioeconomic status, their sexual orientation, their national origin or any of the other factors that make life so unfair and treacherous for them.  That I keep bringing Chicago youth to their own mountains and periodically remind them not to look down until they’ve reached the top.

The mountaintop demands that I, like it, see these young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves; and that I help hold the mirror so that they and the world can see the same.

I have no idea what the mountaintop will demand of each of them.

I do know that whatever the demand, it will make this City and this world – its streets, its homes and everywhere else – a better city and a better world.  These young peoples’ best, bravest and most joyful selves are a force to be reckoned with.  They will show us what this world can be.

 

Chicago Mountaintop

 

Steve Maynard is a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the head paddling instructor at SUNY’s Expeditionary Studies program in Plattsburgh, NY.

John Carmody is also a Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach and the owner of Sea Cliff Kayakers in Boothbay, Maine.  John was the primary coach for the 5 Star training in San Francisco where this post comes from.  On the day of the vignette I share, I was with the half of the group working with Steve and Jen, so John doesn’t make an appearance in the story.  If you’re a paddler and you have an opportunity to work with John – YOU SHOULD TAKE IT!

Jen Kleck was the first North American to become a  Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach.  (I was in great company in San Francisco!)  She is the owner of Aqua Adventures in San Diego and the coordinator of the Baja Kayak festival in Baja California.  You should go to Baja Kayak Festival, the first ever Baja Rock Garden Symposium, if you have the opportunity – April 11-14, 2013; and April 10 – 13, 2014.

Bonnie Perry is the rector (senior pastor) of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Chicago – and the 4th woman in this country to earn her BCU 5 Star Award.

December 15, 2012

Dear friend,

I expect that you, like me, are reeling from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday.  Whether it hit you in the gut as you heard the awful news, or took a day to settle in, the enormity of the tragedy is unavoidable.

In the midst of the grief, powerlessness, anger and despair, I did what I often do.

I went paddling.

I went paddling to find silence, perhaps solace, to remember that in the midst of horror and tragedy that we are powerless to fix, the world is also a good place.

 

It did not lessen the grief, the anger, the despair.  It did — whether because it brought me back to myself; because it let me feel my own strength in my arms, my core, my legs; because it offered perspective  — it did lessen my feeling of powerlessness.

Paddling today brought me back to myself.  I’ve watched it do the same for our kids.  One young man last summer showed up to a paddling program angry with the world and refusing to participate.  He eventually agreed to paddle in a double kayak with one of the program’s mentors, and got into the boat with a scowl.  As we were paddling back an hour and a half later he told me that he had lost something.  I didn’t hear what he had lost.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t hear.  What did you lose?”  -Did he lose a water bottle?  -A flip flop?  -Just don’t let it be a pair of glasses!

“I lost my anger.”

As it did for me today, paddling brought this young man back to himself.

I am powerless to fix the horror and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday, or the violence on the streets of Chicago every night, or the abuse or oppression that so many of our young people face every day.

What I CAN do is to work with our Chicago young people.  I can help them lose their anger.  It is my small contribution to making the world safer for our kids. It feels insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead. Nonetheless it is what I can do.

 

 

 

 

I invite you

– encourage you

– to join me in making one small contribution to making the world safer for our kids.

 

 

 

 

For each of us it will be a different thing.
  • Some of us will hold our kids a little bit tighter and a little bit longer.
  • Some of us will advocate for stronger gun laws, better access to mental health services or increased funding for human services.
  • Some of us will pray, whether alone or with others.
  • Some of us will spread messages of hope on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.
  • Some of us will work to get the economy of this nation back on track.
  • Some of us will make sure that we tell our friends, our family, our kids, our spouses that we love them.  We will make more time to be with them.
Please take a moment to do whatever will bring you back to yourself,
– what will ground you,
– what will restore your belief in humanity,

– what will remind you of what your small contribution to a safer world for our kids will be.

 

  • Your contribution will be small.
  • It will feel insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead, with 6 adults who loved them.
  • It will make a difference.

Your contribution, whatever it is, will join mine. They will join the contributions of the other 1,265 people who will receive this note via email or see it posted on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.

1,267 people each doing one small thing will make the world safer for our kids

If one small thing for you includes a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy, I promise you that it will make a difference.


CAT has so many reasons to be thankful. This year, through a  capital campaign, CAT was able to purchase a fleet of boats. We received a donation of bicycles from Discover Card. 1 of our youth and 2 of our staff were certified as BCU Level 1 Coaches. CAT participated in the inaugural Gichi Gumee Project. The list goes on.

As we reflect on our achievements and our blessings, we must also remember why CAT exists. Youth in Chicago live in a city in crisis. Rates of violence are through the roof. Schools are struggling to offer students what they need to learn. The recent economic decline is still stripping under-served communities of resources. The list goes on.

CAT exists to offer Chicago youth ways to weather these storms with life skills, leadership skills, camaraderie, healthy relationships, and access to healing spaces.  Below, 6 present and former staff have shared their personal reflections on CAT and why they are thankful for its service to the Chicago community. Use the comments section to share your thoughts on thankfulness and why you support the work CAT does.

 

Andrea:

1. Name:  Andrea Knepper

2. My connection to CAT:  Founder and Executive Director

3. One awesome thing I did/ I will do in 2012:

  • Got to see one of our young people become a paddle sport coach and got to teach her to roll a kayak. She was SO EXCITED!

  • Took a solo kayaking trip to grand Isle in the UP this fall. Beautiful!!

4. I’m thankful for CAT because…   Where to start?!  

  • I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness the heart, the courage, the determination, the support that our youth bring to our programming.  I’m so inspired by them.

  • I’m overwhelmed by the generosity and hard work of all the people who’ve helped make CAT a reality and a success – our staff, our Board, our volunteers, our donors, our student interns, our funders, our partner agencies, the outdoor community…  I’m stunned when I take a step back and see how many people have come together to provide this opportunity for Chicago youth.

  • It’s really cool to get to see Chicago young people have the opportunity to do things they would never have otherwise gotten to do.

Stephanie Miller:

1. Name: Stephanie Miller

2. My connection to CAT: I have been with CAT since May 2010, when I did my 2nd level MSW internship there. I came on as full-time staff and Program Coordinator in 2011

3. One awesome thing I did/ I will do in 2012: Became a Level 1 BCU Paddle Sport Coach

4. I’m thankful for CAT because… 1.) it forces me to face my own privilege and biases on a daily basis and 2.) it provides an opportunity to create change in regards to those things, with the youth I get to work with.

Cycling with the Night Ministry

Grace:

1. Name: Grace Sutherland

2. My connection to CAT: I started out as a Masters of Social Work intern back in 2012, and now I’m the Resource Development Coordinator.

3. One awesome thing I did in 2012: Crossed off my #1 Bucket List item: seeing whales in in the wild.

4. I’m thankful for CAT because I get to be a part of a really amazing group of co-workers (staff and interns and volunteers alike!). There have been so many people involved in this organization over the years, and I’ve had the great opportunity to learn something from each of them. I am especially thankful that each of these people has been incredibly dedicated to opening resources and opportunities to young people, as well as treating each young person we encounter with profound respect.

 Ryan:

1. Name: Ryan D. Heath – the D stands for “Danger”

2. My connection to CAT: I was a Schweitzer Fellow at CAT in summer 2011- winter 2012, and became part-time staff in summer of 2012. I also provide comedic relief on an as-needed basis.

3. One awesome thing I did in 2012: I presented research on CAT at the AEE conference in 2012.

4.  I am thankful for CAT for its commitment to social justice in adventure therapy.  At the AEE conference in November 2011, I was reminded of how (even among social workers working in adventure therapy and experiential education) that much of the field and its dialogue is focused on methods and professional reputation. It was surprising to me because us at CAT, we not only focus on the psychotherapeutic as well as technical skills, but the staff is constantly reflecting on and questioning the social implications of the work we do and what the social justice purpose behind the work we do.  This is truly unique in the adventure therapy field, and a unique group of staff to be working with.  For that, I am truly thankful.

Erin:

1. Name: Erin Berry

2. My connection to CAT: I’m an intern with CAT.

3. One awesome thing I did in 2012: I started graduate school for a master’s degree.

4. I’m thankful for CAT because with them, I would not have met and learned from so many wonderful youth in Chicago.

 

Stephanie Taylor:

1. Name:  Stephanie Taylor

2. My connection to CAT: I worked for CAT in 2009 after I finished Grad School running programs over the summer

3. Awesome thing I did in 2012: Got married

4. I’m thankful for CAT because working for CAT solidified my decision to work in adventure therapy/experiential learning.   I now work for The Chill Foundation, where I’ve continued to utilize and build upon skills that I learned at CAT.

After a VERY busy summer here at CAT, I had a chance to take a short solo camping trip last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It was a GREAT trip – utterly beautiful.

Sea Cave

Pausing to enjoy the day

 

For me, getting into the wilderness centers me and grounds me.  It gently, almost imperceptibly pushes aside all the things that don’t matter, and reminds me of who I am.  It allows me to be fully present in the moment.

That respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – it helps me get back to calm after a busy, hectic, exciting, fabulous summer.  And so I am reminded, also, how important that respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – how important that is for our young people.

Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of excitement, too!  A solo kayak camping trip is not something to be taken lightly.  The weather changes just as dramatically whether you’re solo or with a group.  When it comes down to it, the Lake is in charge.

Rock and Water SpoutCloudsWater Spout

You have to know and understand the risks.  You have to know your own skills and limits.  You have to respect the weather and the conditions.  You have to be ready to change your plans, whether you want to or not.  You may well be nervous, even scared, during parts of your trip.

I had several tricky judgement calls to make.  For instance – one should not paddle with water spouts!  On Day 2 I paddled around a point to find a water spout front and center.  I got ready to turn around and hightail it back to land – but I paused because I was mesmerized by the beauty and the awe of the water and the spout.  As I watched, the water spout and the rest of its cloud moved east quickly, there was clear sky behind it to the west, and I was traveling north.  I kept paddling in calm waters and the water spout eventually disappeared.

Or how about this one?  You should not paddle in conditions beyond your limit.  Listen to the forecast and heed it.  The night before I planned to paddle out, the forecast was calling for 4-7 foot waves the next day.  I like to play in those conditions with friends on a sandy beach with an unloaded boat.  I do NOT paddle in those conditions solo around cliffs with a loaded boat!  The conditions didn’t materialize in my sheltered bay the next day but  I was concerned about north winds and the north-facing point I needed to round in order to get home.  I watched, and could see that the bay had waves less than a foot high – well within my limits as a solo paddler.  I could see larger waves on the horizon, but it looked like my point was still in the lee of the rest of the island.  And I could see that there was a safe place for me to go where I could see around the point.  I paddled out, reminding myself that if conditions warranted I MUST go back and re-set camp to paddle out two days after my planned departure, when the winds were forecast to settle down again.  I got to my observation spot of the point to find a few gentle 3 foot waves – at the edge of what I’m willing to do solo, and diminishing the farther around the point I could see.  I paddled out that day.

So I ended up paddling solo with water spouts one day and in a 4-7 foot forecast the next.  Without the background info, I would call bad judgment if I heard about someone doing that.

Cliff and beach

Respite and skill

But it was fabulous, it was safe, and the combination of respite and honed observation or risk had remarkably rejuvenating effects.  The combination of respite, pause, a chance for worry to fall away on the one hand; and excitement, risk, careful consideration of sensory stimulation sorted through a filter of what we know about our chosen activity – this combination can get our brain working well.  It can get our brain making creative connections, without the overstimulation and inability to stop that comes with chronic trauma or with other constant, unending stimulation.  I won’t go into the brain chemistry and morphology involved – it’s fascinating and deeply relevant for the work we do with Chicago youth, but I won’t do it justice.  My brain certainly started working better.  As did my heart and my soul.

I had lots of ideas about CAT programming, about a staff retreat out here, about all sorts of stuff.  What I am left with is this:

We talk a lot about the importance of respite for our young people.  Providing for respite is recognized as one of the necessary components of trauma-based interventions.  I think that sometimes we forget what that really means, and why it’s so important.  We get caught up in making sure we’re matching the right theory with the right population; that we’ve got an effective debrief; that we’re building life skills that can be measured in order to prove we’re doing quality work with important outcomes; that we can articulate why and how we do what we do.  The list of important considerations goes on and on.

What I am left with after this trip is the visceral reminder of the importance of respite.

Cook set

Return to the every day

 

I am home now, the cook set and other gear is washed and put away, and I have returned to find fall waiting for me.  It’s a season when we do a lot of reflection and planning. We want our young people to learn to assess the risk in their lives and develop skills for managing it.  We want them to be able to think critically in the midst of nervousness or fear.  We want them to make good decisions.  We want a lot of things for our young people!

This fall I will remember that as we carefully plan interventions that allow our young people to assess risk, to think before they act, to communicate clearly, to solve problems effectively, to develop a personal confidence they hadn’t had before – I will remember that this active part of our programming must always be balanced with respite, pause, and a chance for the worries to fall away.  At its best, our programming should gently, almost imperceptibly push aside all the things that don’t matter, and allow our young people to be fully present in the moment.  It should remind them of who they are.

Wishing you all a great fall, full of challenge and respite!

–Andrea Knepper, LCSW

Executive Director