Archive for the ‘Chicago Adventure Therapy’ Category
First, thank you for reading this blog about my experience with the Coastal Management Project during the COVID-19 pandemic. Things haven’t been a cake walk for CAT staff, however, we found a way to make the best out of this project. I remember having a staff meeting at Popeyes in the winter, to discuss upcoming programming for in person CAT meetings.
Unfortunately the in person meetings we had planned had turned into virtual meetings. On the other hand, having to do everything virtually allowed me to hone my computer literacy skills. Virtual meetings also allowed me to think harder, as well as become more self aware, because I was used to getting things done in person. Doing this project virtually took a lot of communication, patience, and determination. I am proud of CAT staff for coming together (even if virtually) to complete a successful project to share with Chicago Adventure Therapy.
I first learned about the Coastal Management Project in December of last year. Back when we thought 2020 would be a fantastic, fruitful year. I was extremely excited to have the chance to step into a leadership role with Chicago Adventure Therapy, after being a participant for about five years, and to have the opportunity to introduce paddling to more people while also helping to clean the water that we are so lucky to have in Chicago. I was also excited to teach more people about how to be safe in the water so that they should have more access to it. CAT introduced me to kayaking and water safety when I was 16, and it made my life so much better and gave me something to look forward to doing with a community I genuinely cared for. I wanted to help provide that experience for other people.
The pandemic started just as we began to plan our Water Safety Talks. In the midst of juggling the quarantine, my other job, and some personal issues, we had to rethink our approach to the water safety talks completely. As much as I would’ve preferred to be able to provide the presentations in person, I think that we reached more people than we would’ve been able to. We quickly taught ourselves about audio quality and video editing to produce seven short videos in 7 weeks. I am beyond proud of us for finding a way to get quality information to people in an easily digestible form. No, this is not what I expected the first part of this project to entail, but I am proud that we were able to refocus and come together during a pandemic to complete our water safety talks. I look forward to brainstorming more ideas about how we can make the rest of this grant’s facets both informative and engaging while still trying to keep everyone as safe as possible.
We’re excited to announce a new project – “Youth-Led Community Outreach,” funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Management Program. For me, this is one of the most exciting projects we’re working on – and I’ve been inspired by the way the leaders of this project have rolled with repeated challenges. Over a year ago, we submitted a grant proposal with a lot of inter-related parts – coach training for CAT youth and young adults; Water Safety Talks aimed at young Chicago audiences in communities that traditionally have limited access to the water-based resources in Chicago, presented by the new coaches; Paddling Extravaganzas open to the public and “walk-in” participation, led by our new coaches, where the general public can get a chance to try out a kayak, a canoe or a SUP board; 4-session on-the-water paddlesport classes led by our young coaches; community celebrations open to anyone who participated in any of these events, where we’ll also provide information and resources about ways and places in Chicago to stay involved in paddlesport and conservation activities.
We were so pleased to receive the grant. Just as we were supposed to start, a pandemic hit the world. The young adult leaders of this project had just started planning the Water Safety Talks, when they had to change gears and figure out how to take them online. So in addition to researching the content, they had to learn video editing platforms pretty quick and complete basically a self-taught crash course in PR 101.
They did all of that.
They’ve published a 5-part series of Water Safety Talks. You can watch them all right here.
As the Water Safety Talks were wrapping up, the team started working on a modified version of the Paddling Extravaganzas. Of course they couldn’t plan to bring together the crowds that would have been part of the initial plan – so instead they offered family paddles. They brainstormed where to share information with hard copy flyers and online, and worked on their Graphic Design skills to work up a flyer. The family paddles allowed for the same “intro to paddling” and “intro to Lake Michigan” that we planned with the Extravaganzas – but without the crowds, and without exposing these new paddlers to people outside their household. We were pleased with this way of getting people on the water and keeping the risk of transmission of coronavirus low. We had to cancel the coach training that was planned for June – we couldn’t bring in our Guest Coaches – so our young adult leaders of this project and some of our CAT staff worked together to make sure they got trained in the basics of leading people on the water.
It was another project that wasn’t what any of us expected. And another project that the team stepped up to admirably.
And then the City’s Re-Opening metric that measures new cases turned yellow in a green-yellow-red traffic-light-type system the City created. This was the benchmark that triggered an automatic pause in CAT programming.
So the team had to pivot again.
They were disappointed.
Really disappointed.But they brushed it off, and created a new plan. We’re creating an opportunity for a bit more informal coach training, and since staff events aren’t on pause, the team is planning to film some instructional paddlesport videos. They started filming yesterday evening.
I expect they’ll have to change up their plans again. And again.
I’m really proud of them – for their flexibility, the enthusiasm and the heart they bring to this project, their ability to keep changing plans instead of throwing up their hands in despair or frustration. They may be young – they have handled the frustration and the challenge admirably. They keep coming up with ways to meet the goals of this project.
I couldn’t be more proud of them.
Keep checking this page for updates about their project. We all need a little inspiration this summer – and I expect you’ll find it in this team.
Thanks so much!
Founder, Chicago Adventure Therapy
I learned last week that when radiologists (and other medical professionals) talk about an intake of breath, they call it an “inspiration.”
I love that!
I love that we can’t live without inspiration. I love that something we do every single day is an inspiration.
This summer, I got to kayak the length of the Pacific Coast of this country – from the northwest tip of Washington where I could see Canada, to San Diego Bay, where before rounding Point Loma to go into the bay I could see the Coronado Islands in Mexico.
It was breathtaking. Literally. Every day I held my breath as a whale languidly passed directly in front of my boat or a bevy of migrating birds stretching from horizon to horizon passed so close I could hear the air through their wing feathers. I involuntarily sucked in my breath when a wave collapsed on itself or broke over and around a rock. I laughed out loud when I went by Common Murre or Sea Lion rookeries with their grumbling and belching and chortling. There was the air expelled in sudden surprised tears several times, and (embarrassingly) great big loud ugly sobs when I made contact with the person who was picking me up on that day, when I was utterly exhausted and hadn’t been able to get ahold of him and thought I was going to land in a busy harbor with no place to go. There were the moments of sudden wonder that forced air out of my lungs in surprise- the moment I rounded Point Bonita and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view, the time a pod of dolphins swam out to me and split the pod on both sides of my boat, leaping into the air within just a few feet of my boat, and sank into the water, leaving my surprised breath as the only sound in the silence that filled in behind them.
That word marked the start of the last day of my expedition. I was greeted with a video compiled from videos made by friends across the country and the world, congratulating me on completing this trip. I was given a bouquet of flowers and instructions to decorate my boat with them to remind me of all the colorful friends supporting me in this journey. I was given a white rose with those flowers in honor of Gio, a young man who went to Mexico with Chicago Adventure Therapy, and was shot and killed in Chicago 6 months later, one week before his 19th birthday. The rose was to lay on the water sometime this day, in honor and memory of Gio, and of the young people still alive, in part because of CAT. I was given a necklace. It was a silver lotus flower – a flower that grows into the sun from roots deep in muck and mud. The lotus flower was holding a piece of sea glass that had, like me, been tossed and pummeled by the sea, stripped raw and worn to the nub, to that essence where all that is left is breath and wonder.
I was greeted that morning by one last thing. A bag of flower buds. A note with them told me they “symbolize all the young people CAT has yet to inspire.” The note reminded me that “you can’t save them; you can only inspire them, as they inspire you.”
I cannot tell you that there is anyone who inspires me as much as the young people who are part of CAT. I’ve cried (and sobbed) with relief, with joy, with worry, with frustration, in grief. I’ve laughed, over and over again. I’ve held my breath, expelled it involuntarily in sudden surprise. There have been moments of wonder as I watch the grace, the courage, the generosity of these young people who’ve been handed a raw deal in their lives.
I learned last week that an “inspiration” is an intake of breath. I wonder – what takes your breath away?
* * * * *
If you are inspired by our young people, I hope you will take a moment to make a contribution to CAT.
If you are inspired by a 1508 mile paddling trip, I hope you will take a moment to make a contribution to CAT.
If there is someone who inspires you, I hope you will take a moment to make a contribution to CAT in their honor.
Everyone who donates $50 or more today will be entered in a raffle for a Baja Fest 2017 T-shirt. It’s a super cool T-shirt because it’s got me on the front. You want this shirt!
By the shores of Gitchi Gummee…
Four and a half years ago, we ran our first CAT kayak camping trip. We paddled on the south shore of Lake Superior, 6 miles from a campground on the mainland near Munising, Michigan to Trout Bay on Grand Island. For three young people, it was the first time camping out of a kayak, paddling on Lake Superior, building a fire, navigating on the water, getting an introduction to fog… The mosquitoes were worse than ANY of us had seen.
Every fall I try (not always successfully) to get away alone for a week. My first solo fall trip, in 2012, was the same itinerary as that first CAT kayak camping trip. I often try to take youth to my favorite paddling places – young people who were on that camping trip in 2014 have paddled with me on San Francisco Bay, on the Pacific and Sea of Cortez sides of Baja CA, in Scotland, Maine, and on Lakes Michigan and Superior.
We run programming almost every day during the summer, sometimes more than one. This summer, we worked with over 260 youth, delivering over 5,000 participant hours of programming. That’s a lot of hours of pulling gear, cleaning gear, repairing gear, putting gear away, keeping track of gear… It’s also a lot of hours of email, scheduling, program planning and program debriefing. We also bought some sports gear from https://tennisracquets.com/collections/babolat-tennis-racquets and taught the kids some tennis over the course of two weeks. When we’re not on the water or on the rock or on the trail, or dealing with the gear and logistics to be on the water or on the rock or on the trail, we’re visiting youth in prison or the hospital. We’re attending court dates and funerals; graduations and award ceremonies. We’re trouble shooting with young people who’ve lost their housing or are trying to figure out transportation to a job interview when they don’t have money for a bus pass or to keep their phone on. We’re listening to the tragedies in our young people’s lives, and celebrating the victories. Around the edges, we’re raising money, monitoring the cash flow, trying to return emails and phone calls.
It’s rewarding work – we’re lucky to have jobs that are meaningful and help make life better for at least one person. And, by the time the summer is over, I try to get away. Because it’s also demanding, exhausting work.
This year, I got back to Grand Island. It’s in the middle of the 120 mile Hiawatha Water Trail. I learned about the trail, and got the map, on that first solo trip in 2012. Then, it didn’t occur to me to paddle the full length – a 2 night solo trip to Trout Bay, with a water spout sighting to add excitement, was plenty daring and daunting! Over the years, I got curious about it.
A few of the spots that caught my breath…
About 2 weeks ago, I realized that there was a fortuitous, and relatively unlikely, weather window just when we were closing the office for a week as summer programming ended. We got back from a camping trip on Sunday – on Monday I went grocery shopping, did laundry, re-packed clothes and food, arranged a shuttle and logistics for both ends of the trip, and headed to the UP. For 5 days and 120 miles I paddled along towering dunes, multi colored cliffs, jumbled boulders, steep cobblestone beaches and wide sandy beaches. I paddled along red sandstone, black and gray granite, and yellow sand. I paddled through sandy water murky from eroded dunes, stunningly clear turquoise, green and dark blue water, steel and bronze colored water reflecting the hazy sky, tannin-stained water gold by shore and red where small rivers meet the Lake. I saw mink and a baby snapping turtle, and several bald eagles every day. I think, for the first time in my life, I heard wolves in the wild.
Lunch spots were as good as the camping spots…
The trip was well within my abilities, but challenging nevertheless. With a 2:00 pm start the first day (it’s a long shuttle to drive first…) and about 15 miles to my first campsite, I had to average a bit over 25 miles a day after that. I’ve paddled that daily mileage and more, but not on consecutive days. It took its toll – I was really tired at the end of every single day, and moving slow every morning. I had a good weather report – south winds would provide protection for the whole trip. Coupled with clear skies, my forecast would mean safety. But on Day 4 and 5, a “chance of showers and slight chance of thunder showers” crept into the forecast. I started listening to the forecast – marine and regular – every hour to see if it was changing. Both days, the wind unexpectedly turned to the north for a while. If it stayed north and built, my protected paddle would become exposed quickly, with limited landing or camping spots. Day 4 had enough places I could land and camp, and even end the trip if I needed to; Day 5 had precious few places to land, fewer that looked like I could camp, and almost no places I could end the trip instead of hunkering down and waiting. While these were gorgeous paddling days, the stress level was higher as I constantly re-formulated plans, re-checked the weather and watched the water and sky.
The north winds settled down both days, and my original itinerary proved more than possible. By Day 5, I was pleased to find myself ready to be thinking about CAT again, making plans for next year with enthusiasm instead of beleagueredly. The most exciting of those plans is that I won’t be around next season. I will be taking a sabbatical, and 2 long-term staff will be running the organization. You can find more information about Laura Statesir and Zorbari Nwidor coming soon. (Until then, you can check out their bios on our staff page.) I’m confident about leaving the organization in their hands; and I’m pleased that CAT is organizationally ready to run without me. When I return next fall, it should allow me to return in a different role, putting the time and energy needed into several projects we’ve been dreaming about for several years now. Laura and Zorbari’s jobs will be much easier if you can help us even out our cash flow a bit by becoming a monthly donor. We are 20% of the way to our goal of 10 new monthly donors before the end of 2018.
I’ve included some photos of my trip here. For more photos, check out the Google album.
(more photos here, where you can see them better… 🙂 )
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.