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I have been thinking about gratitude. I volunteer at a soup kitchen; I eat there once a week.  I’ve learned a lot about awkward relationships across societal barriers.  I’ve learned a lot about austerity and going without.  I’ve learned a lot about trust.  I’ve learned a lot about mis-trust.  This last week I learned about gratitude.

Sometimes as social workers we can get into a frame of mind where we think our clients somehow “owe” us gratitude.  We want them to be grateful to us — we work hard, we don’t get paid a lot, we try to get people what they need in a system and economy that don’t make it easy.  We move mountains.  So we’re pleased when people appreciate the work we’re doing for them.  When we’re tired and stressed and doing our best but our best isn’t quite enough, it’s easy to slip into that frame of mind where we think we DESERVE their gratitude.

This week there was a man at the soup kitchen who was new.  There were a few things that didn’t go how he wanted – when the meal started he  watched other people at the table take large servings after he had been careful not to take more than his share.  Our conversation meandered through some uncomfortable topics – for instance, he told me that I didn’t seem to fit in with everyone else, and wanted to know if the church that sponsors the soup kitchen planted a few volunteers at the tables for crowd control…  I sometimes appreciate uncomfortable conversations (much more AFTER the fact than during!) because they are often the ones that allow us to speak candidly about taboo subjects – like the difference in class between two parties to a conversation.

Where our conversation settled after the meandering was on the topic of gratitude.  Despite the discomfort and flaws he had seen and named aloud, he said, with absolutely no bitterness, hesitation or rancor, that he was grateful “for places like this.”  He wasn’t bitter; he also wasn’t subservient. He didn’t seem to feel like he owed anyone his gratitude.  He was simply grateful for a meal.

I asked him about it – because really, how many of us manage to successfully cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our lives?  Especially if things are tough enough that we don’t have enough food at home?  He said he has to work at it; and that he practices.

His life is such that he doesn’t have enough food.  To get enough food, he has to do something that’s really hard – has has to publicly ask for help.  And yet he maintains a stance of gratitude for the gifts freely given him in his life.

I was blown away.  And grateful for his example.

— In the same way that I am frequently blown away by the young people we work with.  —

Here’s just one example.  At the first meeting of our Leadership Group this spring, we were concerned about bringing together youth from a variety of our partner agencies.  Specifically, many of the young people at The Night Ministry identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  Many of the young people in the gang prevention program we work with come from a faith background that tells them homosexuality is a sin.  We struggled with the ethical ramifications of NOT inviting young people from one organization, and with the ethical ramifications of bringing them together in one program because of potential safety concerns.  We looked carefully at the individuals who were interested in the program, thought carefully about when and how to frame the issues of diversity and inclusion, planned both the content and the sequence of our curriculum carefully, staffed the program with even tighter ratios than we usually do – and invited young people from both groups.  All of our staff were impressed with how they interacted with each other.  They were  polite, generous, mature, inviting, interested…

 

Ground Rules for the Leadership Group - we couldn't be more impressed

What I feel when I think about that first session of the Leadership group is a sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for the example they set for us.

When social workers are at our best, we don’t look for gratitude from our clients.  When we’re at our best, we realize how much gratitude we have for the example our clients set for us.  I feel like that’s especially true at CAT because of the population we work with.  Sometimes teenagers can be brats – we all know that!  We certainly see it at CAT.

But when we can call forth the best in teenagers, they show us the best in themselves, and the possibility that there is for our world.  The only response is gratitude.

 

Hi there!

Things are picking up for the season here at CAT!  We have 5 new summer interns, we have a Clinical Frame published to our website, we gave away 5 sliced watermelons at the Ravenswood Run on April 29, we’ve worked with 121 young people in April and May (that’s almost twice as many young people as we worked with in all of 2009!), we have more volunteer training planned than we’ve ever had before…  The list goes on and on.  For details, check out our Facebook page.

We handed out 5 sliced watermelons at the Ravenswood Run

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m struck by is the power of ongoing relationships.  I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

  • We met “Bob” in the summer of 2007, during a pilot program that, at the time, I thought was a total bust.  We ran into him again in June of 2010 when we started programming with The Night Ministry.  He was on the Youth Parliament with The Night Minsitry, and his area of responsibility was with Adventure Club.  We got to watch his leadership grow for two years.  Now he’s in his mid-20’s, working and going to school.  He’s also in our Leadership Program this year.  It’s really great for us to get to watch his life change, and watch the success he’s wrung from difficult circumstances.
  • We met “Humberto” in late summer of 2010.  Some of you know who he is – he’s the reason we gave out watermelon a few weeks ago.  That was the first year the Chicago Adventure Therapy was a Contributing Charity with the Chicago Marathon.  When we found out “Humberto” was running the Marathon, we offered him the same thing we offered our Charity runners – we asked what he’d like for us to have waiting for him at our cheering station at Mile 14.  He hesitated a minute, and then said quietly, “Well – I like watermelon.”  So began our 2 and half year tradition of handing out watermelon at road races.  In 2011 “Humberto” showed up to a program with bruises on his face.  He’d made the decision to leave the gang he’d been involved with for many years and had been “beat out” by his peers and friends.  In his own words, “Humberto” “messed up” his Freshmen year; since then he’s gone to Saturday School

    Paddling at Jackson Harbor

    and evening classes, and is on track to graduate from High School on time in just a few weeks.  He’s looking for a summer job in order to save for college.  And he’s participating in our Leadership program along with “Bob.”

  • The leadership program that “Bob” and “Humberto” are both a part of has been planned by Stephanie Miller, our Program Coordinator who started with CAT in 2010 as a summer intern from Loyola’s School of Social Work.  We’ve been lucky to have interns from Loyola since 2009; we couldn’t do the programming we do without the amazing students who come to us from Loyola.  We’ve had young people racing in the Chicago Shoreline Marathon since summer 2010, and wouldn’t be able to do it without logistical help from The Northwest Passage.  And the volunteers I told you about earlier? — we wouldn’t be able to have our young people racing the 8-mile course of the Shoreline instead of the relay course, that stays right on the same beach, if it weren’t for a corps of dedicated volunteers willing to train with our youth on a weekly basis, so that our young people and our volunteers can complete this course safely.

Enjoying good weather and good company at the 2010 Chicago Shoreline Marathon

It’s been 5 years since we met “Bob” and started developing the relationships that have allowed for some amazing opportunities for our young people.  Heading into 2012, we can’t wait to see what the next 5 years bring.  We hope you’ll be part of them with us!  If you want to join us, give us a shout atinfo@chicagoadventuretherapy.org or volunteer@chicagoadventuretherapy.org.  Or if  you’re a runner and “Humberto’s” watermelon sounds good, email us at racing@chicagoadventuretherapy.org to learn how you can race with us, raise funds to help us change lives for more Chicago youth, and get some watermelon while you’re at it.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

–Andrea and the CAT team.

Below, Program Coordinator Stephanie tells us about the CAT staff’s conceptualization of the Clinical Frame and how it came to exist over the course of several months. You can read the Clinical Frame by going to our About Us page, and clicking the links that correspond to each section of the Frame.

During a staff meeting, a few months ago, a discussion started on how we tell people about CAT, about what it is and what we do. Questions quickly arose such as, “What are all the components of CAT?”, “How do they relate and interact with one another?”, and “How do we talk about it in a way that makes sense to others not familiar with adventure therapy?” These questions ultimately started us on our path to the creation of CAT’s Clinical Framework. The reason for the creation of the framework quickly expanded beyond how we talk to others about it, but also included making sure we, as a staff, were all on the same page about what it is we really do and how exactly it works. It become a way for us to look at the results we desire to have compared to the actual outcomes we have seen in our program evaluation and ultimately be more intentional in our services.

At times the Framework seemed to take on a life of its own as we began to put the many, many pieces together. The pieces include the Chicago youth we work with, the environments and experiences that surround them, research on risk and protective factors of urban youth in general, clinical interventions traditionally used, the activities CAT uses (navigation, cycling, rock climbing, paddling, winter sports, and camping), research on brain development in relation to trauma, research on adventure therapy, and our own programming outcomes. One by one the staff created each component and every week we put each piece together and decided from there what else needed to be done. There were times when we realized we needed to change parts of it or that we needed to include more. We didn’t want to leave anything out and we wanted to be clear about the intricacies and complex relationships between the different components. Finally, we have completed what we like to call Phase 1 of the Clinical Framework. As both CAT and the field of adventure therapy continue to develop and evolve, so will our Clinical Framework. Until Phase 2…

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Meaghan ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for CAT last year. Thanks, Meaghan! Read about her experience below and see some of the pictures CAT staff took at the Charity Block Party at Mile 14! For more info on the Chicago Marathon, head over to our racing page!
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Meaghan writes:
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I was approached by my very dear friend, Stephanie Miller, one day and asked, “Hey, have you ever thought about running the marathon?” I replied, “Well, yes, actually, I have. It’s one of the things on my life’s to-do list, my bucket list.” Stephanie quickly responded, “Would you want to run it this year?” Oh, wow, this year? I hadn’t been running very consistently and had always figured a marathon was a few years away. I told Stephanie I wasn’t sure, but asked her why she had asked. Was she planning on running it?? Because if she was going to run it, I totally was going to run it. Sadly, she told me that she was not planning on running, but that the organization that she works for, CAT, was looking for runners to fundraise for them and run the marathon. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe if I was supporting a good cause and if they helped me out a bit, I just might be able to pull it off. Of course, I was still skeptical about my ability to actually run this thing, but figured I’d hear her out. She told me that CAT would assist me in fundraising and would provide me with a coach. The amount I had to raise for CAT was a very attainable goal and I knew I would definitely need a coach if I was going to run A MARATHON! So, to both our amazement, I agreed! Uh oh, what did I get myself into? Oh, well. Too late. And, that feeling quickly passed. I was happy to be raising money for such a great organization. CAT is such a unique organization that does really great work with inner-city youth. I enjoyed telling people who I was raising money for and most people had never heard of CAT. I enjoyed spreading the word.
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At the beginning, before I had started training, there were a couple meetings with a couple of the other runners to throw around some fundraising ideas. The ideas from someone who had ran a few races and had experience fundraising was helpful. She let us know how often to email people, what types of things to include in the emails, and just some good tips about fundraising. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in any group fundraising, but that probably would have been a lot of fun.
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The best part of being associated with CAT for the marathon was access to Coach Brendan and his running group. I emailed Coach Brendan a billion times, a few before I even met him, asking him all kinds of questions – did I need new shoes?; how should I be changing my diet?; should I try to get out of this commitment?; am I really going to be ready to run a marathon at the end of this?. He is an amazing guy who kindly answered all of my questions and didn’t make me feel strange for asking all of them. Coach Brendan was available via email for any question I had along the way. He would make sure he spent time getting to know you when you showed up for training runs and he would run or bike alongside you to watch your form, ask how you were doing, and give you some tips. He was always available after runs to talk about how you were feeling. I met some great people through this training group and ran with some of them on race day and still keep in touch with them – and am planning to run with them again this Spring to train for a half-marathon (yes, just a half…the full thing is no joke!).
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Ok, I know earlier I said the best thing about running for CAT was the Coach Brendan training, but I lied. There were a few “best” things: Coach Brendan, fundraising for CAT, meeting new people, talking about CAT along the way,…but I think the best part for me was seeing Stephanie out of nowhere run up to me with a sign she had made for me and having her run alongside me telling me how proud she was and how thankful she was that I ran for CAT. Since then, I have met more of the CAT family and everyone is so passionate about what they do for CAT. It was hard to say no to Stephanie when she asked me to run the marathon because I know she so strongly believes in CAT and its mission, which made me want to do what I could to help support that. Now, after meeting even more members of CAT, I can honestly say I am so glad I did it and I wouldn’t want to fundraise for anyone else. I won’t be running the marathon for a while (if ever), but I’ll be sure to make CAT my fundraising beneficiary if I do!

Welcome to our new Chicago Adventure Therapy website and blog!

I don’t know just what to say in welcome. When I don’t know what to say or where to start, I usually start with the here and now. Right now, I’m sitting here on a sunny, blue-sky January day, with a cold front coming through tonight to bring us 6 inches of snow.

Corny as it sounds, the warm sunny day with its impending Winter Storm Watch brings me to what I’d like to say today.

Because the weather is at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We’ve all gotten to keep our winter coats in waiting; we’re all gonna get dumped on. The weather doesn’t play favorites.

But we’ll all take the news of snow in so many different ways. If you’re a paddler and you’ve been enjoying the extended Chicago paddling season, you might be disappointed. If you’re a skier, you’ll be pleased. If you’re harried with the everyday work slog, you’ll be annoyed to have to get up a half hour earlier to clear ice and snow from your car…

Personally, I’m hoping that the snow comes early, and that I can play hooky for a few hours and go paddle on the Chicago River. I think the River might be at it’s prettiest in the snow.

Chicago River in the snow

When I paddle on the River, I’m reminded that there are those who experience the River as a means of survival, not recreation. I’ve learned which bridges have dwellings under them; where there are people who want to be quiet and unnoticed, and where the guys are who will give me a hard time; whether it’s a make-shift dwelling with beer and a pile of clothing, or a well-designed shelter made by someone with solid campcraft skills.

My point is this. Chicago’s resources are like the weather. They are at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We all experience them. We’ve all got the River, the Lake, the parks, free days at the museums. But those resources mean such different things for each of us. The River is a recreational treasure for me. For the people living along its banks, it’s a means of survival.

The youth we serve experience Chicago’s resources radically differently than most of us reading this blog. When I paddle by a shelter along the Chicago River, I find myself thinking about the youth we work with at The Night Ministry – youth who sleep at friends’ houses, at shelters, outside – wherever they can find a place. I hope with everything in me that while they’re still young, we can help them develop the personal resources they need so that as adults they won’t be living in one of those shelters.

But it’s not just personal resources they need. They need access to our city’s resources.

 

I want to digress a moment to tell you about a friend of mine. I’ve known him for maybe 7 years. “Joe” grew up in the Lathrop Homes. He’s got a history riddled with violence, mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. When I met him, he lived along the River. When he gets lonely or his heart breaks, he thinks about going back there, because he doesn’t have to deal with other people when he’s under the bridge.

“Joe” and I once had a very long conversation about the guys in the gang prevention group we work with. I asked “Joe” for his advice and insight because as a boy and young man he was successful in the Latin Kings. I asked him to help me to understand the realities of a life so far removed from mine.

The next day, “Joe” called me. He told me it was really important. He said

I have to talk to you about the kids you work with. You just have to love them.  That’s what you have to do.  You have to love them.

I don’t want our youth to have an adult life like “Joe’s.” Our hope, our job, our dream, our mission at CAT – is to make a difference in their lives so that their adult life is different than “Joe’s.” We look everywhere we can to figure out how to make that difference.

  • Our first program evaluation is almost complete
  • Our staff has been working hard to develop and define out Clinical Frame
  • I talk to “Joe” fairly frequently, to try to get a better understanding of what life and this city really is for our youth
  • We look to Best Practices in the field of Adventure Therapy, recent brain research, and a variety of clinical theories and practices in our program development
  • We try to give our youth access to the amazing resources this city has to offer

The most important point underlying all of this is to follow “Joe’s” advice – to build authentic, appropriate relationships with our youth.

 

Sometimes it sounds a little silly to me to say that we’re changing our youth’s lives by taking them paddling; or making the city better by climbing with our youth.

But I believe it 100%.

A new perspective

 

Imagine our 4 weeks paddling with a group of 15 girls from Alternatives, Inc. The first week, many of the girls were scared to put their toes in the water. They were scared of fish, sharks, drowning, barracuda, getting their hair wet… Stephanie had bruises on her arm at the end of the first day because one girl held onto her arm so tightly the entire time – in knee-deep water. The next week, we went into water that was over their heads, to many screams and squeals and shouts of “I’m gonna die!” The next week, we went into water not only over their heads, but deep enough that they couldn’t see the bottom. This was when several of them, including the girl who bruised Stephanie’s arm, got out of the boats and learned to swim. The last week, we paddled beyond the pier at the south end of Montrose Beach. If you know that beach, you’ll know that when you round the pier, you lose sight of the beach. And you get about the most spectacular view of this city’s skyline that you can find anywhere. These girls got that view on a perfect summer Lake Michigan day, when the water has just a touch of movement to it, and a color that rivals any Caribbean beach.

Here’s the exciting part – memory and emotion are stored close together in the brain. The neurons activated in each are close together, so they spill over into each other a little. The emotion that goes with that day and that view – the magic that is a combination of accomplishment, wonder, satisfaction, camaraderie – that emotion is tied to that view of Chicago; it’s one piece of their experience of Chicago. They literally, concretely saw this city as they’ve never seen it before.

Chicago for them is just a little bit changed. — And it’s theirs.

I love the warm weather we’ve been having. And I can’t wait for the winter beauty that comes with fresh snow. I hope that both will remind me that we’re all in this city together; and also that this city treats people very differently based on race, ethnicity, economic status, gender expression and sexual orientation, access to power, and a lot of other sad and unjust reasons. I hope that you’ll join me, our staff, our board and our volunteers in the momentous adventure of changing life for our youth, and changing this city for them.

We’ll keep you posted on the adventure, and how you can be a part of it.

Thanks!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Executive Director

Good paddling

 

Ready to Launch on Montrose Beach

 

Today I’d like to tell you about a young person who we had a harder time connecting with than we do with most of our youth.  We found it challenging to connect with her because it was a little bit challenging to like her.
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There were several things that made it difficult for us to have the empathy we strive for.
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  • She lied
  • She was manipulative
  • She was very good at pulling each of us away from the group
The hardest thing for me, though, was how hard she worked to convince us she was inept and incompetent.  She learned, somewhere in her 13 years, that it was beneficial to her to hide her strengths and convince people she was helpless, worthy only of pity.  She seemed to crave connections, but only knew how to create them through weakness.
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We don’t know a lot about her life or her home.  She told us disturbing things about her family.  She told us disturbing things about how much food she got at home.  We had to talk with our partner agency several times to figure out which of us was going to follow up on some of the things she said.
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One thing is clear to me.  She desperately wanted to be loved.  And she thought she needed to be someone different than she was in order to get that love. 
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So she told us lies.
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  • She tried to get us to pity her.
  • She tried to get us and her peers to admire her.
  • She tried to get us to give her enough attention to fill up the hole in her hurting heart.

Learning to Surf at Montrose Beach

The responses she tried to elicit from us, sometimes successfully, didn’t make her feel better.
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They didn’t make us feel better either.
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So we thought carefully about how to respond.  There were lots of ways we knew we DIDN’T want to respond:
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  • We didn’t want to let her take any of us away from the group
  • We didn’t want to let her isolate HERSELF from the group
  • We didn’t want to ignore any real fear she had
  • We didn’t want to ignore any lack of basic resources at home
  • We didn’t want to pity her
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What ended up seeming to work was something that I found difficult to do.
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  • I’m a good social worker – I like to think I’m compassionate and that I respond when people need help
  • I’m a good guide – I don’t let a group get spread out, especially when the group is kayaking
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I let “Cora” go farther from the group than I ever let people go.
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I didn’t go after her or give her individualized instruction when she took off away from the group, looked back at me to make sure I saw her, and then plaintively called to me that she couldn’t turn her boat back around.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
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We had all seen her use her turning strokes.
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            — So I paid little attention to her.
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That is, I paid little apparent attention to her. I knew exactly where she was, how fast she could paddle, how fast I could paddle, where our staff were in relation to her, and how fast they could paddle. But I gave her little attention.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
“I can’t turn.”
“You can turn.  I’ve seen you.  Use your turning strokes.”
“I’m scared.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“I need help.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“Come get me.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
She cried.
“Use your turning strokes.”
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We didn’t go after her. 
She used her turning strokes.
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When she got back to the group, we gave her lots of attention.  We congratulated her on her turning strokes.  We told her exactly what it was about her turning strokes that we thought was good.  We welcomed her into the activity the group was doing.
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We learned to pay enough attention to her to know what her skills were, where she was, and whether she was safe.
We learned to give her attention when she paddled back.
— When she paddled back to the group whose admiration, respect and acceptance she craved.
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It broke our hearts not to give “Cora” the sympathy she so expertly and plaintively elicited from us.
We think it healed her heart just a little bit to coax her to show us her strength.
To relate to her around her strengths, not her limitations.
To empower her to paddle into the group instead of away from it.

This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.

That’s not to say that I DON’T like others of our youth – I find that I truly, authentically enjoy intereacting with almost all of our youth.
But there’s something about “Rico” that I really like.
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  • He’s got a great sense of humor, that’s frequently slightly mocking of us, the CAT staff.
  • He’s really smart.
  • He’s not afraid to call us out when we say something or act in a way that’s not quite right.  Which is not to say that our staff is inappropriate – but when we work every day with people who live in a world pretty different from us, we sometimes say things that are offesnsive when we have no intention of doing that.  I think it takes a lot of courage and poise for a young person to call out an adult in a position of authority, and to do it appropriately and with humor.
  • He’s willing to try almost anything; even when it makes him nervous.
  • He’s got remarkable people skills.
  • He’s a natural and graceful leader – I have much that I can learn from him.
  • I love his enthusiasm for the technical pieces of sea kayaking – “Rico” and I are kindred spirits when it comes to paddling.

Devil's Lake

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There are so many stories about “Rico” that I’d love to tell you
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  • how he helped one of the mentors with his program on our camping trip:  She was terrified of heights, to the point of tears and hyperventilation.  “Rico” went back down the trail, sat with her, talked with her, and then walked back up the trail slowly right in front of her so she could watch his feet, and make it up the trail.
  • how he used his own experience to encourage his peers: On the first paddling program, he challenged me about whether the life jacket would work.  When I told him it would float him, he eventually told me “I don’t believe you.”  He was the first to capsize that day, and flailed around a lot in the water – until he realized he was standing…  The next week I asked him to help a new paddler with his life jacket.  “Rico” said “You have to make it tight.  Otherwise if you fall in, it’s gonna float up here (indicating his forhead) and it’s not gonna help you.  And you have to stay still.  If you move around it’s gonna get in your way.  You have to be still and it will work.”
  • how he worked hard to get his roll: He was scared to put his face in the water; but ended the summer so close to a roll that all the help he needed was a slight push on the boat with one finger.  (If you don’t know what a roll is – it’s when you sit in a kayak, turn it upside down, and then bring it right side up again while you’re in it.  It’s not in fact difficult to do, but it can be very difficult to learn.)
  • how he calls it as he sees it:  I was a little bit surprised when he told me that at the beginning of the summer I “talked like a rich person” but that now I talked “more normal.”  I was surprised again when I called out one of his peers for mocking us, thinking we weren’t getting it, during a serious discussion.  “Rico” grinned and said “you’re starting to understand us.”

Here is my hope for “Rico.”
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I would like to help him find a job in the outdoor industry.  He’s got the natural leadership skills and athletic ability to make an excellent outdoor leader.  When I asked him about it, he took it very seriously and told me that yes, he was interested.
More to the point – one of the mentors in his program told me that his gang has also noticed his leadership ability, and is recruiting him pretty hard.  A job in the outdoor industry could potentially give him an opportunity to use his leadership skills, still give him the adrenaline rush that he likes, and give him job experience.  It could provide the opportunity for a very different life – a life that could give him the opportunity to travel the world, rather than a life bounded by a territory four city blocks in size. 
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This is my hope for “Rico.”  We are trying to give him the opportunity.
I want to introduce you to “Humberto.”  We first met him in August of 2010; he was pleasant, quiet and polite.  When we saw him again in early October, we learned while we were drinking hot cocoa after paddling into the evening that “Humberto” was going to be running the Chicago Marathon in a couple weeks.  We were going to have a cheering station halfway through the course, so we asked “Humberto” what he might like for us to have for him there – something he couldn’t carry with him.
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We were a bit surprised when he answered,
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“Well, I like watermelon.”   
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So started our now 2-year tradition of handing out watermelon at Mile 14 at the Marathon.
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“Humberto” paddled in the Flatwater Classic race with us on the Chicago River.  We saw him over the winter when we climbed indoors. We saw him at our very first summer program with this group of guys –  “Humberto’s” small group cycled to the Lincoln Park Zoo and were mesmerized by a tiger.  “Humberto” had never been to the zoo.  He’s 16.
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We didn’t see a lot of “Humberto” over the summer.  He had a summer job.  We missed him.
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So we were pleased when he showed up for a paddling program in July.
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He had bruises on his face. 
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For me;
for our staff;
perhaps for you
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it’s disconcerting and disturbing to see someone’s face full of bruises
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As he talked with Stephanie, he told her about having been “beat out.”  He’d decided to leave the gang – to do that, he had to make an appointment with them to be be beat for 3 minutes.
Cooling off in the Jackson Harbor Fountain
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We usually have lots to say about working with this group of young men.
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  • About trauma, and the way it re-wires the brain — and the way our programming can re-wire it again, providing access to the cerebral cortex and the ability to think before acting
  • About teaching them what we have come to think of as “Chicago Literacy” – where North is, where downtown or the harbor or the zoo are in relation to their neighborhood, how to get there on CTA, how to read a map – so that these guys can have access to their city
  • About what it is for them to get some simple respite, away from their neighborhood; a chance to let their guard down
  • About the way their faces soften when they start talking about the beauty we introduce them to; about the paucity of beauty in their lives
But when we think of “Humberto,” this is what comes to mind
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  • we hope he sticks to his decision
  • we hope his decision gives him more possibility in the rest of his life
  • we can’t claim that we had anything to do with it
  • we’re glad we have had the opportunity to meet him
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He has reminded us how hard it can be simply to bear witness.
We hope it matters.
We believe it does.

“I Feel So Free”

By admin
November 11, 2011 4:30 pm

Cycling with the Night Ministry

“Zara” came to a cycling program we did not too long ago in October (2011). She was very out-going and had a lot of what I would call spunk. Before the program even started, some of the youth, “Zara” included, went to use the public restrooms near the cycling facility. When they returned, the youth and one of their staff explained to me that a security guard had stopped them from going into the women’s bathroom. Why did the security guard stop them? Because “Zara” does not quite fit into one clearly labeled slot, as far as gender goes, in our society…Because “Zara” identifies as transgender.
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Their staff reported that the youth handled themselves well, despite the frustrating situation. Later the youth stated that the bike ride and beautiful fall day helped rid the negative feelings they had surrounding the incident. Finally, during the debrief “Zara” described what she had expected the program to be like and how it felt afterwards. She initially thought people were going to say, “Oh, that’s a man” and stare at her, but in actuality no one said anything like that and no one stared. Instead of having her guard up, “Zara” said she felt safe. She said she felt free.
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It was a great moment, for us CAT staff working the program, to hear “Zara” say those words. It felt inspiring to hear from one of the youth that we are doing some of the things we so desperately strive for…providing safety, acceptance, and a new perspective.

Fun at the Chicago Shoreline Marathon

Last week I promised to tell you about two young women who weathered the same micro-burst as Michael and Jeremy who Grace introduced last week.  I get to use Kawana’s and Latrice’s real names with you, because they have spoken in public about their experiences as CAT participants.  We first met Kawana and Latrice in the summer of 2009.  Both are in college now.
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I first met them at the end of our 8-week program with the girls from the Girl World Program at Alternatives that year, when four of the girls said that they wanted to know how to volunteer with CAT.  One of them went to college at the end of the summer and wasn’t around; the other three, including Kawana and Latrice, raced with us in the Chicago Shoreline Marathon and the the Flatwater Classic in August and October, and then joined our very first leadership program in January.  We created the leadership program because of them.
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I want to tell you about the Chicago Shoreline Marathon.  It’s an international race.  The girls talked with the winner from South Africa in 2009 (he told them to keep training…), with an Olympic kayaker who had driven a trailer of boats from San Francisco, and with the only woman in the heat of elite racers (who encouraged them to keep paddling); in 2010 they got their picture taken with the 1st and 2nd place winners who had last raced each other in Australia (a group of CAT volunteers are in that picture too). The race has three lengths – a 26 mile marathon length, an 8 mile beach-to-beach length, and a relay race just off shore.
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In 2009, conditions were rough.  When we arrived in the morning, I had a serious talk with the girls about coniditions.  Race organizers were considering cancelling the relay.  I was consdiering cancelling our participation in the relay even if the race organizers didn’t cancel it.
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The race didn’t cancel, I didn’t cancel, and the girls decided to go for it.  With my heart in my throat and already questioning my own judgment, I watched them launch into conditions they’d never paddled in before, each with a staff member at their side.  I gave Christine and Emily instructions about shortening the route, and last-minute rescue instructions despite the fact that they’d been teaching rescues all summer.
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Kawana capsized.  Latrice capsized twice.  On her second capsize, Latrice had a hard time getting back in the boat.  On the paddle back, Latrice was scared, quiet, and not very good at listening.  Emily struggled to help her calm down.  When Latrice got back and I congratulated her, she didn’t think there was reason for congratulations and didn’t fully believe me that she’d done a good job.  I told Latrice about the times I’d gotten knocked over  – that those were also the times when I learned the most and that my paddling improved the most.  I sent her a picture of me upside down in my boat.  I was worried we’d put her in a situation that was too stressful; that this was no longer going to be fun for her.
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We periodically have these conversations with our youth – conversations about NOT meeting our goals, about being disappointed in our performance, about feeling like a failure.  We love the times when our youth are successful beyond their wildest dreams. We like being cherr-leaders for them.  And we’re REALLY good at it.
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But I think perhaps they learn the most when they don’t do as well as they’d like.  Because one of the hardest things we learn to do is to deal positively with faliure.  To learn to scale back our goals.  To learn to be happy with doing our very best. 

2009 Relay Club Team First Place!

We stayed at the beach and had lunch, and left around noon.  We didn’t stay for the awards ceremony later in the afternoon. We didn’t learn until 2010 that they had taken first place in the Club Team category in 2009. 
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In 2010 both girls showed up to the Shoreline wearing their Shoreline T-shirts from the year before and the CAT baseball caps they got at the camping trip with “Micheal” and “Jeremy” where, as we like to talk about it among ourselves, they “survived the hurricane.”
We miss both girls this year.  We’re so proud of both of them to be starting their college careers.  And I’ve told both of them that if they come back to Chicago after they’re done with college, I would be honored if they would consider sitting on our Board of Directors.
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I’d like to leave you with something Latrice said this past summer.  Both of them spoke at our research presentation in August.  We asked them to answer a few specific questions – and we also told them that if there’s anything else about CAT they think people should know, to include that.  Latrice seemd a little nervous – but told us all that the thing she most appreciated about CAT was that we reach out and offer programming for “kids who wouldn’t normally be able to do stuff like that.” 
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I was so pleased that Latrice recognized the issue of access.  That social justice aspect of what we do is important to us.  I hope that if Latrice returns to Chicago after college, she’ll help us continue to offer programming in a way that rights some of the inequalities and injustices in this city.
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In the mean time, we so enjoyed having Latrice and Kawana with us for three seasons; and we’re so proud of both of them we hardly know what to do with ourselves!