Archive for the ‘Chicago Adventure Therapy’ Category
Paddlesport Leader Award
This is a robust multicraft leadership award for people leading in sheltered water environments. It can be easy to dismiss a “sheltered water award” as not robust or not requiring significant skill. Neither is true of this award.
This award covers sea kayaks, canoes, recreational kayaks, stand up paddleboards, sit on top kayaks, surf skis… Successful assessment of this award indicates that the leader can competently lead new paddlers on introductory trips in a variety of craft. As such, candidates need to have creative group management strategies that include all the “standard” issues (different goals of group members, different paddling speeds, etc), as well as challenges inherent in a multi craft group (for example – a stand up paddle board usually moves more slowly than a sea kayak…). The successful candidate needs to be able to handle emergencies in a multicraft group also. They need to be able to perform a self rescue in their chosen craft, at a standard that allows them to get back in/on their craft without losing control of the group. They can get some help in their self rescue – the emphasis is not on doing it alone, but on resolving the situation while maintaining the safety and confidence of the group. They also need to be able to rescue a variety of craft from their chosen craft. This doesn’t mean that the assessment invites a bonanza of rescues from every craft to every craft. Rather, the successful candidate will understand several core principles of rescues that will allow them to problem solve a rescue of any craft they may find themselves leading. They also need to show an understanding of towing techniques for a variety of craft – again, most importantly, showing an understanding of some core principles that will allow them to problem-solve a tow for whatever craft they may need to.
There’s a specific definition of “sheltered water” for this award.
Sheltered Inland Water:
- Ungraded sections of slow moving rivers where the group could paddle upstream against the flow (not involving the shooting of, or playing on, weirs or running rapids)
- Areas of open water (e.g. lakes and lochs) not more than 200m offshore and in wind strengths that do not exceed Beaufort force 3 (Beaufort force 2 if wind direction is offshore)
Sheltered Tidal Water:
- Small enclosed bays or enclosed harbours
- Defined beaches where the group could easily and quickly land at all times
- Slow moving estuaries (less than 0.5 Knots)
- Winds not above Beaufort force 3 (Beaufort force 2 if wind direction is offshore)
You’ll note this is really two venues, whether Inland or Tidal – moving water and open water. Successful candidates need to show leadership, personal skills and rescue skills in both venues. These two venues taken together make this sheltered water award a broad, robust award.
There are no prerequisites for this award. The candidate must show at assessment that they are at standard. There are several official British Canoeing courses that may prove helpful for some candidates in their preparation for this course. The most helpful are likely the 3 Star Award in the candidate’s chosen craft, and the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) for safety protocols and a variety of rescues and rescue principles. Some candidates will find that the Paddlesport Leader Award, coupled with a Padlesport Instructor Award (this is the new name for the Coach 1 Award – more on this below), provides a solid base for introducing new paddlers to the sport, with the ability to teach them basic skills and take them on a led trip in sheltered water. This trust in the candidate to create their own learning process to get to standard and successful assessment reflects a new orientation to learning and development on the part of British Canoeing. More on this below.
Where — How does a coach make deliberate use of the environment for effective learning? How do they take opportunities the environment offers, and work around limits placed by the environment?
Discipline Specific Training — The Discipline Specific Training covers basically the What and the Where – these two areas change by venue and discipline. There are a lot of categories in the Discipline Specific. The categories that will be offered North America are:
- Canoe and Kayak Coach (sheltered water, equivalent to UKCC Level 2 Award)
- Canoe Coach (sheltered water)
- Kayak Coach (sheltered water)
- Sea Kayak Coach (moderate water; equivalent to UKCC Level 2 with Moderate Water Endorsement)
- Prerequisite – Sea Leader Award (“old 4 Star”)
- Sea Kayak Coach, Advanced Water (advanced water; equivalent to UKCC Level 2 with Advanced Water Endorsement)
- Prerequisite – Advanced Sea Leader Award (“old 5 Star”)
There is no longer a workbook or portfolio requirement for assessment. While British Canoeing continues to value the necessity for consolidation of learning, an attempt has been made to allow the candidate to determine how best to do that for themselves. There are multiple options available, from formal to informal. The philosophy behind this is that learners should be involved in their own learning, and allowed to learn in the ways best suited to them. A coaching candidate is a learner when they are learning to coach – and the requirements of the journey to coach have been changed to allow for individualization and ownership of the process. This place a much greater responsibility on the coach candidate – they cannot simply “tick the boxes” and go for assessment. The candidate will have to be pro-active about choosing the learning options best suited for them and actively pursue those options. They will also need to consider carefully for themselves whether they believe themselves to be at standard before presenting themselves for assessment.
The British Canoeing Awarding Body’s new website offers a broad range of free educational materials. All of the elearning is presented in short interactive sessions, with a “quiz” at the end, that identifies your areas of strength and the areas to improve, links to information about each of those areas. It’s really a pretty impressive and exciting development!
Here’s the Elearning for the Paddlesport Leader Award.
Changes in Coaching AwardsBritish Canoeing will be reviewing the other coaching awards in the next several years. The Paddlesport Instructor Award (the “old UKCC Level 1”) will be reviewed next; the re-worked award will be launched in January 2019. The Performance Coach Award (UKCC Level 3), will be reviewed and re-worked after that.
As of now, the 1 Star, 2 Star and 3 Star Awards have not been changed.
British Canoeing is launching British Canoeing International this spring. This will allow for international memberships, with options that include insurance and other benefits tailored for an international audience. Watch the British Canoeing website for the launch.
This is a piece that Andrea wrote for an email that we sent. We are sharing it here, too.
A little over a week ago, I sent an email with the news that one of the young men we’ve worked with was shot and killed the night before. Last Tuesday I went to Gio’s funeral. Several hours after I got home, I learned that two more of the young men we’ve worked with had been shot that day. One of them was killed. The other will live.
On Friday I went to Aaron’s vigil. Tomorrow I will go to his funeral.
It took me longer to write a note to all of you about it this time. It is not new that our young people are being shot and killed. The first year we started working with this partner agency was the first year we had to cancel a session because the young men were going to a funeral for their friend and peer instead of going climbing.
That was 2010. Our kids have attended funerals for their peers every year since then. This year is the first time that any of the young men we’ve worked with have been killed. Two dead in a week was hard.
Our partner agency has buried 15 young men this year.
It’s taken me longer to write to you this time. It’s harder to find the words. It’ harder to know even what I want to say to you. Maybe I want to tell you the horrific sound of Gio’s mother’s wailing grief. Maybe I want to tell you how moved I was by the young people who waited patiently for an hour and more until his mother was ready to leave, and then gathered by Gio’s grave. Maybe I want to tell you about the tough-looking young man who kissed the top of his girlfriend’s head, then pulled his buddy near and held him in a long, intimate embrace. Maybe I want to tell you about the photo I have of the two young men who were shot together five days ago – it’s of them paddling together, literally sharing a boat. Maybe I want to tell you about the young men at Aaron’s vigil. The young man we’ve paddled with for two years with silent tears on his cheeks telling me he was OK. The young man I don’t know sobbing in his friend’s arms. Young men lined up at the wrought iron fence, hands holding the bars above them, faces pressed into the spaces between the bars, crying as they paid respects through the fence where candles burned and balloons stood guard.
Maybe what I really want to tell you is how desperately I don’t want to go to another funeral for an 18 year old kid. Because our kids should be burying us decades from now; we shouldn’t be burying them now.
What I will tell you about is the young man who lived on Tuesday. I have a picture of him from a camping trip in 2013 with a breakfast of bagel French toast with two Reece’s peanut butter cups, a thick layer of peanut butter, and syrup. The smile on his face is exuberant. Ebullient.
That smile stayed put through the trip. It was biggest when his brother arrived. Staff from our partner agency arrived early in the morning of the second day of the camping trip – after a 4-hour drive from Chicago – with his brother. His brother was in a treatment facility, and the staff had secured a 24 hour pass in order for him to join us for part of the camping trip. When he arrived, the young man who lived on Tuesday was literally bouncing in his joy and pride, announcing “This is my brother!”
We didn’t see him much the next summer, but we did see him on a paddling program at the end of the summer. I had a long conversation on the water with him. It was sobering. It was scary. It had hope in it. He told me that he was a “renegade.” He would kill for anyone who paid him. Both sides of the neighborhood paid him, because he would go into situations that other guys wouldn’t. He would do things that other guys wouldn’t. It seemed the level of violence he would engage in was astronomical.
In the same conversation – in nearly the same breath – he told me he was working to get out. With the help of his mentor, who he referred to as a father to him, he was trying to get out of the gang.
We’ve known kids who did get out. The first kid was one of the very first kids we worked with in this program. The year before, on a cycling program, he convinced us to ride to the zoo. I will never forget the sight of him at the tiger enclosure, face pressed against the glass with the four year olds, because it was the first time he’d seen a tiger. He was 15 years old. The next year, at 16 years old, he made the decision to leave the gang. We learned he’d done this when he showed up to programming with bruises all over his face because he’d gotten “Beat Out” – he’d had to make an appointment with the gang to get beat up in order for them to let him out. Our partner agency can sometimes negotiate with the gang to let kids out without getting beat up. They’d allowed this guy to do that, but he’d kept hanging around his friends – who were still in the gang. So the gang made him get beat out – they forced him to cut all ties and to get hurt. If you’ve never seen someone with their entire face bruised, I hope that you never do.
I don’t know if our guy who survived Tuesday’s shooting got Beat Out. Or if he left at all. I know that he showed up in programming again the next year, exuberant as ever, and showing all the new guys the ropes – showing them how to fit a life jacket, letting them know that if they fell over they’d be all right because our staff would get them back in the boat.
His life is on the edge. He will survive this shooting. I don’t know if he will stay in the gang or leave, or if he’s already left and he was shot anyway. I don’t know if he’ll live long enough to show up in programming next year. I don’t know if he’ll continue to live an incredibly violent life, or if he’ll find the wherewithal to choose a life that forces him to cut ties with all of his friends, leaving him to share his bubbling, odds-defying, incongruent joy with all of the other people he comes in contact with.
Our city and our country have big problems to face, and our youth are balanced on the knife thin edge of them. Whatever it is that you are doing to help tip them over to the safe side of that edge – please keep doing it! It may seem small and silly and inconsequential. It can’t possibly feel sillier than believing that kayaking with kids can save their lives. Or change their lives.
This is what I will do. I will continue to welcome this young man to paddle with us. To cycle, to climb, to camp. To get a glimpse of what could be possible. Because I would rather see him next summer with his face gruesomely bruised, than get the text telling me that he’s been killed.
I said last week, and I will say it again:
Not a single one of us can make our city or our country safe on our own.
Not a single one of us is justified in not doing our small part.
Thanks to Scotland Squad member Zack for this write – up of the Port Austin Kayak Symposium!
Recently I went to the Port Austin Symposium. The first time I’ve been, and I was assisting as a coach for the kids program. Now, that may not seem like a lot to the more veteran members of the paddling community, but let me paint a picture. I am an 18 year old black boy, unfortunately when I smile I look even younger, and trust me, I smile a lot. Point is, you don’t see people that look like me often.
It’s often a glaringly obvious fact when I arrive that there aren’t many people like me present. However, this doesn’t make me sad. Okay, it does a little bit. But more than that, it makes me determined. Because to diversify the paddling community, with youth as well as race, would be to revitalize it. To make it more inclusive.
Working with the kids there showed me the kind of an impact I could have. I thought my biggest challenge that day would be getting all of the kids to wear sunscreen, or handling any temper tantrums on the water, of which there were many. Then came an hour or two into the symposium. I learned that there would be a group of kids coming in from Detroit, and that myself and another CAT PC youth, Tiara, would be coaching them.
This group of kids had a 4 hour drive, and were navigating through traffic. So they would arrive around lunch. The rest of the morning session went fine, with an eventful attempt on our lives by a rogue mother seagull. Right before lunch Andrea arrived to tell Tiara and I that the Detroit group had arrived.
That group happened to be comprised of 5 young black boys, and two black women. I’m generally extremely apprehensive when meeting new people, and Tiara immediately announcing, “Let’s go introduce ourselves” of course didn’t help. But then I remembered my first symposium, and how besides our CAT group, there weren’t many people like me there. So I bucked up and walked over. That was literally the best decision I had made that whole Symposium.
Tiara and I went on to take that group through the motions of kayaking, from gearing up, chowing down, and then paddling out. We taught them proper technique, took them on a little tour around the breakwall, and then brought them back with some good old fashioned rescues, my specialty. I slowly realized that my biggest challenges were gonna be getting them to all wear sunscreen, but this time there was only one temper tantrum. By the end, we had completely exhausted these enthusiastic boys, and I feel they were better off for having known us. Which is really all you can say sometimes.
The next day I officially met Rowland Woollven. In his morning class, during the introduction, the funniest thing happened. Everyone was going around introducing themselves and their paddling experience. All these well traveled people boasting 35 years paddling, but only 9 seriously, that sort of thing. And then they get to me. “I’ll have been paddling for a year on July 14th”. Then came the giggles. And I understand, my experience paled in comparison. Or so I thought. Until Rowland clapped me on the back and then announced, “What he forgot to mention was that he’s a coach”. And the giggling stopped.
Over the course of the day I realized that I was better off having known Rowland Woollven. And John Carmody, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching. And Phil Hadley, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching and my FSRT. And honestly, Andrea Knepper, who puts so much work and dedication into helping me achieve my goals in paddling. Who I wouldn’t be going to Scotland without, and frankly I wouldn’t want to.
Since I was young, both nature and travel have been important to me. Nature was healing and calming, while travel was exciting and perspective-broadening. I took this for granted because I had abundant opportunities for both. I went to overnight summer camp every year; I camped with grandparents; I swam in the Mississippi and the ocean; I climbed trees, rode bikes, and chased lightning bugs in a neighborhood that was completely safe for a young girl and her friends to roam.
Fast-forward to 2 years ago. I was several years into working as a therapist in Chicago, in neighborhoods where it’s not safe or advisable for kids to leave the yard; where multiple young people have told me that they try to stay inside in the summer because there’s too much going on outside. A colleague had designed and implemented an Adventure Therapy pilot program for youth at my agency, and I inherited the opportunity to keep it going as she moved out of the country. She passed it on to me because she knew I was “outdoorsy” and would keep the group going the following year. This was novel programming at UCAN; there had been occasional camping trips and recreational outings for youth, but to my knowledge, this was the first multi-week therapy group dedicated to building social and emotional skills through exposure to nature and outdoor recreation.
The majority of my work is trauma work. The youth I encounter, across the board, have experienced trauma that most of you (and I) would rather not know or think about, let alone live through. The youth I encounter have often received several lifetimes’ worth of negative feedback from adults who are supposed to care for and protect them. They are expected to graduate high school, handle their finances, and figure out how to get into college and get a job, largely on their own. As a therapist within larger systems such as foster care or public schools, we try our best to be voices of empowerment and strength, but negativity can be overwhelming for the most needy and vulnerable youth.
Adventure therapy is different. By leaving the neighborhood or the city to hike, bike, paddle, or climb, young people get to explore their physical and emotional capabilities in brand new ways. They get to face real fears about nature and their limitations, in a safe, supportive, and strengths-enhancing context. And hopefully, if I do my job well, they return to their homes and neighborhoods with an increased sense of their internal resources to face challenges that are not so safe and supported.
My proudest moment with this group so far happened just 2 weeks ago, when 3 of these young people received their Level 1 Paddling Coach certification. These youth are teen parents, abuse survivors, prescribed with “anger problems” and “mental health issues”. They are also leaders, teachers, and coaches with employable skills—at age 16, one happens to be the youngest to ever become a coach. And one will be traveling to Scotland with me in a few weeks to paddle alongside several other adults and young people in an environment that will be exciting and challenging for all of us.
If you’ve been wondering why this one trip to Scotland matters so much to me, and why I’m asking you to give–this is why. It’s a culmination of seriously hard work by the young people attending, as well as intense commitment of numerous adults to create ways for the young people to keep pushing their limits and take this “outdoorsy” thing as far as they want to go with it. It’s much, much more than just a kayaking trip.
Update: Applications for our summer internship program are closed for 2016. Please check back with us in early 2017 for next summer.
CAT is looking for a few dedicated individuals who would like to spend their summer working with us! Keep reading if you are interested…
Using adventure sports like kayaking, camping, cycling, and climbing, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) helps under-served youth in Chicago have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.
Intern Job Description:
Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) seeks an intern to assist with summer programming using urban-based adventure therapy with under-served and marginalized youth. This unpaid internship is open to students who need an internship, field placement or practicum in order to fulfill the requirements for their degree. Interested and qualified students who cannot meet the above requirement can also structure it as an Independent Study for which they receive credit.
- Assist with the overall planning, implementation and follow up of single day and summer-long programming
- Work alongside program staff to facilitate adventure therapy groups
- Co-lead cycling, climbing, camping and/or kayaking activities
- Help develop targeted one-on-one and group clinical interventions with a range of underserved and marginalized youth
- Organize paperwork for programs including waivers and medical forms
- Assist with program logistics such as equipment, meals, and transportation
- Participate in weekly staff meetings and additional trainings
- Able to commit at least 20 hours/week from June – August
- Able to co-lead cycling, climbing, camping and kayaking programs
- Interest in clinical psychotherapy and/or youth development
- Curiosity about the experiences of under-served and marginalized youth and practices to best serve these populations
- Dedication to social justice and anti-oppressive practice
- Ability to work independently, collaboratively, and flexibly
- Experience working with under-served and/or marginalized youth is preferred
- Experience in outdoor, adventure, or experiential education; social work or community-based youth programming strongly preferred
- Ability to work outdoors in harsh weather, lift 20 – 50 lbs, and work a non-standard schedule
- Students in a clinical field of study will receive clinical supervision from an LCSW. Please check with your institution about required supervision and/or required credentials of field supervisor.
- Experience using adventure therapy with under-served youth populations
- Work alongside and learn from other fun loving, passionate, and dedicated adventure therapy professionals
If you are interested in applying, please submit a cover letter and resume to Andrea Knepper at email@example.com.
“Travel is fatal to bigotry.”
I bet we all have a half dozen or more inspiring – and true – quotes about travel.
When I was just out of college, working a stipend volunteer job and living in community with others in the same program, there was one person in our apartment who was NOT straight out of college. She had just completed two years in the Peace Corps, living overseas. In the year we lived together, I was continually struck by how much broader her understanding of the world was than the rest of ours.
Travel changes us. It challenges us. It makes us grow.
It’s a formative experience for youth and young adults. Its impact on them – on us – stays with us throughout our lives.
So we’re beyond pleased to be planning two different international CAT trips this year.
But travel, as we know, can also be stressful. The details can be challenging.
When we travel with CAT, we come across details that stop us in our tracks. The challenges to travel that our young people encounter are mind-boggling to me.
One young man flew with no photo ID. He went to the airport with us in the full knowledge that he might not be able to fly. (For those who are wondering – he was a legal adult.) This young man was homeless, and like many homeless people, the ID he’d worked hard to acquire got lost. He had two State IDs (we didn’t ask how that happened…) One was lost when his bag was stolen, and the other was lost when the bag that it was in, that he’d stored for safe keeping at the place of a friend who had an apartment through a housing program, was lent out to someone else, its contents emptied and subsequently lost. This young man discovered that both IDs were missing the day before we were flying – so we looked up what to do if you don’t have photo ID, and he went to the airport equipped with his birth certificate, his social security card, and his high school diploma. He had to go through additional security, but he joined us on our trip.
Anther young man planned to join us on an international trip, so we helped him get a passport. We sent in all the required documents, including State ID and birth certificate. His application was denied – on the grounds that his State ID was issued too recently. — Yes, you read that right – his ID was issued too recently. It gets more bizarre – they told us that he needed to present five valid forms of ID, all at least five years old. It did cross my mind that in the State of Illinois, a Drivers License wouldn’t work as one of these forms of ID, because they expire in four years… We scrambled, and got it figured out, and this young man came on the trip.
Twice we’ve had young people whose tickets we’ve bought – and then they got work that didn’t allow them to come on the trip. One young man was offered a job on the spot at a job fair. The job was retail, and the orientation was the next week, in the middle of our trip. They wouldn’t let him attend a different orientation – if he couldn’t make that one, he didn’t have the job. I’ve applied for jobs, with limited vacation time that didn’t accrue until Id’ been there a while, with vacation already on my schedule. In the middle class and white collar world, you tell your potential employer about the trip, and it’s usually not a problem. You might have to take unpaid time – but it doesn’t preclude employment. Sadly, this young man was not able to go on the trip he’d spent five months helping to plan, learning about navigation, tides, currents and trip planning in order to do it.
Perhaps the most perplexing obstacle was when we had a young person whose date of birth is unknown. It’s true – we have three different years of birth for her. This young person was 17 years old when we met her. When we celebrated her birthday 7 months later, she was turning 17 years old. We asked her for her date of birth and made ticket reservations with that information, only to discover that the date of birth on her ID doesn’t match EITHER of the ages she gave us… And our reservation was made with a date of birth that WASN’T the one on her ID…
Traveling with a transgender young person also presents challenges. We had to make sure we knew their names and gender on their ID, neither of which match the person we know. We had to publicly and officially mis-gender them in order for them to be able to travel. And we have to be prepared to advocate for them at the airport – there’s documented evidence of a trend of harassment towards transgender people at airport security.
Every time we plan a trip, we’re caught up short by challenges that our young people encounter. Still, travel is valuable enough that we put in the work to figure it out. And we almost always do.
I wonder who among those of you who will read this post – who among you are old enough to remember when Martin Luther King Jr Day became a national holiday?
I remember. I was a kid. Not a little kid – probably early teens. Old enough to understand that this was important; young enough to be so naive as to be stunned when I learned that making Martin Kuther King’s birthday a federal holiday wasn’t an automatic, easy win.
I had a button in support of the holiday. A big, round red and white political button. I was wearing it one day when I ran into our neighbor, Mrs. Buckler.
Mrs. Buckler was old. She was frail. And she had some dementia. I had watched my mom protect her when the local fraternity publicly and loudly teased and humiliated her during Rush Week.
So I was stunned when she saw my button and started an impassioned political conversation. And even more stunned that she was furious about the idea that our country would create a holiday in honor of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
For my 13th birthday, I asked for “A Testament of Hope,” Dr. King’s collected writings. Despite the fact that he and Harriet Tubman were my long-standing childhood heroes, I was oblivious to the fact that there was anybody who didn’t idolize MLK as I did.
I was shocked that anyone in this country would oppose a national day to remember and honor him.
Because, you see – I was a white girl. Had I grown up a black girl, I would not have been shocked that racism still existed. I might have idolized Rev. King – but I would have had no illusions that he or the Civil Rights Movement ended racial inequality and injustice in the United States of America.
This is what White Privilege is.
I could grow up passionately devoted to justice and equality, and not understand until my early teens that racism was alive and well.
Our young people of color don’t have the luxury of being so naive as to believe that our City is safe; or that it’s as safe for them as it is for me. They talk of the dangers of “driving while black.” They share stories of being stopped by the police, of being roughed up by the police every day. I’ve watched police drive by a paddling venue and stop where they can watch our groups as we load kayaks; something that has never happened when I’ve paddled those same venues with white paddlers over the last 15 years. We’ve had a peaceful group, sitting in a public gazebo debriefing a paddling program, approached by a police officer who’s first sentence was an aggressive “What’s REALLY going on here?” He accused the group of threatening and violent behavior.
As a clinician, it’s tempting to take the view that I work with individuals; with individual hurts, individual betrayals, individual traumas — all safely apolitical and uncontroversial.
Trauma-informed care tells us otherwise.
“To study psychological trauma means bearing witness to horrible events. When the traumatic events are of human design, those who bear witness are caught in the conflict between the victim and the perpetrator. It is morally impossible to remain neutral in this conflict. The bystander is forced to take sides. It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the other hand, asks the bystander to share the burden or pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”
~ Herman, J. L. (1992). “Trauma and recovery”
In a city where we know the names of Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, LaQuan McDonald – I’m left with the question:
What is our ethical responsibility as clinicians who work with young people who have experienced trauma because of oppression? Because of systemic racism, sexism, heterosexism, cisexism?
I believe we cannot be silent.
While I would be less surprised today by Mrs. Buckler’s vehement opposition to making the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday a Federal Holiday, I still have the privilege to choose to be utterly blind to the oppression and systemic racism that is a part of our young people’s lives day in and day out. As a well-trained clinician, I believe I have an ethical responsibility to take an active and visible stance against it. If I don’t, I betray the trust our young people put in me.
Do you remember your first camping trip? Roasting marshmallows around the campfire; watching shooting stars at night; being terrified of the creature outside your tent at night that must certainly have been a bear, and a REALLY big one – only to realize it was a raccoon. … or a chipmunk. Swimming in mountain lakes, skipping stones on any body of water you could find, climbing rocks and trees, eating food that may or may not have been good, but always tasted beyond amazing when you were eating it outdoors after a day in the sun or the rain…
Sometimes we get to create those touchstone experiences for the young people we work with. They are invariably some of my favorite CAT programs. Our most recent trip was to South Carolina for the East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival, with a young man who participated in the 2013 Gitchi Gumee Project – and this trip, too, was amazing.
I don’t know whether my favorite thing about this trip was the 80 degree weather in early April, the hospitality of the organizers and coaches of the event, the variety of sports and craft that Jose got to try out, or the fact that, once again, I had the tremendous privilege and joy of introducing a young person to something brand new to him. And then getting to show him even more of that sport – new skills, new crafts, new venues, a broader cross-section of the community…
I think, when it comes down to it, that what makes my favorite programs my favorites is this. It’s about that same visceral, not quite speakable sense that comes with the smell of rain and the sound of it on my tent. The years-long search for the perfect golden brown marshmallow, and a way to melt the chocolate for the S’more it will fill.
* * * * *
Jose was nervous about paddling when he joined us at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium for the Gtichi Gumee Project. Some of our volunteers were worried, the first day, when he had a difficult time staying calm with a wet exit. (A wet exit is a required skill when you paddle a sea kayak if you wear what’s called a spray skirt. The skirt keeps water from coming into the cockpit – it’s not so important, it turns out, to stay dry; but a skirt is helpful for the stability of the boat. A boat filled with water handles sort of like a dishpan filled with water. If you’ve ever tried to carry a full container of water, you know that once it starts sloshing, it just starts sloshing more. It can be tricky to keep your balance in a boat that’s doing that.)
I worked with Jose for a good 30 to 45 minutes, helping him to find a way to stay calm as he dumped his boat over, pulled the skirt off his boat, and came back to the surface holding onto his boat and his paddle. Two days later, he was surfing on Lake Superior. The grin on his face touched the hearts of a whole lot of paddlers. It was one of those rain-on-the-tent marshmallow moments that none of us quite had the words to describe.
Jose can surprise you. He’s very quiet, almost painfully shy. It can be hard to tell if he understands a piece of technique you’re teaching him, whether or not he’s having a good time… Then you watch him in a class on technique and realize he’s really quite talented, and is taking in everything the coach is saying. He’ll tell you that he hopes he gets to come back to the event, and you realize, in the tone of his voice and the way he looks directly at you once he’s finished his sentence, that the event hasn’t just been fun for him; it has made an impact on his life. You ask him what the best part of the trip was, and he says it was the rescue class. You ask him why, and he says it was because the instructor trusted him to demonstrate how to stabilize a boat as the instructor climbed in and out, demonstrating a variety of entry strategies. You hear him say that it “touched his heart” that the coach trusted him to do that. Now, you realize why he wants to come back. You begin to realize the nature of the impact this has had on his life.
* * * * *
Jose is very quiet. Sometimes, when others are quiet, we want to talk. When there is silence, we want to fill it. — If we can listen into silence; if we can listen long enough to let someone else talk; if we can listen our young people into speech…
… if we can listen, we realize that our young people have something to say. And that we will find our hearts split open
warmed and filled – touched, perhaps
at what they have to say.
I got to accompany Jose on his first airplane trip and his first time seeing the ocean. I got to teach him how to tip at dinner at the Baltimore Airport on our way home. I got to paddle with a dolphin with him. I got to watch him learn archery, struggle with short track mountain biking, learn to sail a kayak, practice a variety of rescues when he still doesn’t much like a wet exit, learn to move a boat with some precision, try out a surf ski and paddle a SUP board without falling down once. I got to watch coaches take the time and care to coach him well; and to watch him experience trust. My job was to accompany him. To watch and to listen.
I got to listen him into speech. And then I realized – we’d had a rain-on-your-tent marshmallow trip.
In the midst of a very cold winter in Chicago, we just completed what might be my most favorite CAT program in our six years of programming.
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.
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.
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.