You are currently browsing the archives for the Paddling category.

Help Chicago's under-served youth by donating to Chicago Adventure Therapy today.

Click here to donate to CAT now.

Get Chicago Adventure Therapy news delivered right to your inbox. Sign up for our e-newsletter today!

Follow all the latest happenings on the CAT Adventure Blog.

A big thanks to the organizations who have supported us recently:




Archive for the ‘Paddling’ Category

“We got our Three’s!”

img_0970

Scotland Squad

Just over a month ago, a small CAT group went to Scotland.  Three members returned as the newest British Canoeing 3 star sea paddlers, and I returned as the second American to earn the UKCC Level 3 Coaching Award.  Each of us is part of a pretty remarkable community of paddlers that trained with us and supported us and sent us off with their hearts and their hopes.

The words that often define and confine members of this community are varied and diverse.  Many are words not often seen in print about athletes or paddlers.  Some are words that more often preclude people from paddling or traveling.

Our words?  Homeless.  Teacher.  Ward of the State.  Hospice Employee.  Transgender.  Artist.  Suicidal.  Business Owner.  Abused.  Dancer.  High School Drop-Out.  Social Worker.  Teen Mom.  Actor.  Felon.  Musician.  HIV+.  Librarian.  Eating Disorder.  Outdoor Educator.  Gang Involved.  Grant Administrator.  Refugee.  Public Defender.  Anger Issues.  We range in age from a sophomore in HS to retired (and one community member’s 1 year old son).  Our experience levels range from first time in a boat to ACA L5 instructor.  We are Black, White, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern.  We are single, married (“gay married” and “straight married”), living with partners, divorced, and we have restraining orders against former partners.

 We have become a community. 

l3-write-up-29-of-34

We’re not perfect.  We hurt each other’s feelings.    We’re sometimes rude or mean to each other.  Not everyone likes each other.   Still, we’re a community.  We’ve had each other’s backs on the water and off.  We’ve called each other out when some members are left out of the “in.” We’ve apologized to each other when we too have been hurt.  Adult members of the group have come to symposia they usually wouldn’t have because a group of CAT young people would be there, and they’ve ditched the classes they paid for in order to spend the day with our community. They’ve traveled across the country to paddle venues they’ve had the opportunity to paddle before and haven’t, because THIS is the group they wanted to paddle with.  Our community crosses barriers that often divide us.  In the process, it changes the lives of people on both sides of those barriers.

*****

For my Coach Level 3 assessment, I needed to take two long term students with me – students I’d been coaching for at least a year.  For three years, my goal was to take CAT participants.  I thought it was probably impossible.  I was inspired by two young men.  They participated in the Gitchi Gumme Project in 2013.  They told me that they wanted to “learn everything we can about this sport.”  Coaching them and two volunteers at Montrose Beach that August was the precursor to this community that we’ve developed.  They went to the Golden Gate Symposium the next January.  One of them was in Scotland with me a month ago.

I was worried about taking CAT participants.  This was the first time that a trip would be as much or more about me as it was about them. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  Many of my colleagues would say I was getting ready to cross a line that a Social Worker should never cross.

photo 3

When I had the opportunity to take those two young men to the Golden Gate Symposium, it reminded me that in youth development work, it’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.  It reminded me that we have a responsibility to provide young people with opportunities for challenge that don’t come with a guarantee of success.  I worried about the possibility that I was crossing boundaries held sacred in Social Work practice; and I trusted in my belief that the young people we work with deserve every opportunity for mastery that we can offer them.  If we don’t offer those opportunities, even for sound professional reasons, we are treating young people as “disadvantaged youth,” not paddlers or leaders.

I made the decision to invite three young people, so that if anyone ended up having to cancel at the last minute I would still have two students.  I asked an adult member of the community to come along to help manage the group.  Our documentarian came along as well – the documentary “Paddling in Spite of the Ordinary” about CAT will end with the Level 3 assessment.

l3-write-up-1-of-34

The L3 portfolio requires profiles of both “official” students and an annual plan that outlines the coaching plan for these two students for the year, with 12 session plans that are part of that annual plan.

From a coaching perspective, we often build student profiles based on 4 related parts of paddling – the technical, tactical, psychological and physiological.  Do students know a skill? Do they know when or in what circumstances to effectively employ a skill?  How does their level of excitement or anxiety (or lack of either) impact their ability to choose or perform a skill?  Do they have the physiological ability to perform a skill in the conditions in which they want to perform it?  The TTPP profiles for CAT students often look different than what paddlesport coaches expect.  A few people in our community have these brief TTPP profiles:

  • ttpP – living in a shelter that serves cereal for breakfast, lactose intolerant – dinner often the only meal on any given day
  • TtPp – trauma – swing from dis-engaged (bored, sleeping) to over-stimulated (scared, belligerent) quickly – narrow Learning Zone; student unable to take direction in dynamic conditions, angrily shouts “No!” — challenging to keep student safe
  • ttPP – Hx of abuse, often dissociates – not fully embodied, challenging to teach a physical skill to someone who is not in their body; expect this student has some level of dyspraxia as a result of trauma
  • Ttpp – gets tired/bored practicing technical skills – need to keep it interesting; *create reason for needing technical skill,  *be able to teach technical skills in the flat water that we often have and ability to transfer skill to dynamic water
  • ttPP – strangled by significant other, gasket of dry top causes intense anxiety

My Annual Plan for my two “official” students is tied up in the annual plan for the whole community. We had a Surf Day last fall, lots of time in the pool over the winter.  We had a retreat in early May, a camping trip on the Mississippi River in mid-May, several 2 star assessments mid to late May and while we were in Scotland another group was camping and paddling in the Apostle Islands.  Twelve people did their Coach 1 and FSRT in June.  Community members went to symposia as students and as coaches.

Our learning and paddling together as a community doesn’t translate easily into a linear plan for two students.  But over three years we paddled and learned together, we built community, and I put it all together in my portfolio.  Last month, we went to Scotland.

l3-write-up-12-of-34 l3-write-up-23-of-34 l3-write-up-3-of-34

I’m really proud that we all passed.  I’m even more proud of our community.  We’re a more diverse, younger community than most in the paddling world – especially in the “serious” paddling world as opposed to a “program” for “urban” or “at risk” youth.

There’s lots of discourse about how to bring young people and people of color into our sport.  We’ve done it.  We’ve done it with young people who have some of the fewest resources at their disposal.  We’ve done it by believing that the words that so often define and confine us are not the only words that describe us, and that they do not have the power to proscribe what is possible.  We wrote a new script, and we did it together.  Some of us may be homeless.  We’ve considered suicide.  We’re high school drop outs, wards of the state, teen moms.  We’re musicians, business owners, social workers and outdoor educators.

We have another set of words. Paddler.  Coach. Leader.  Learner.  Community Member.

professional-sorted-1-of-1 l3-write-up-27-of-34

Thanks to Scotland Squad member Zack for this write – up of the Port Austin Kayak Symposium!

 

Version 2Recently 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.

 

IMG_2411

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.

13442707_257367587966630_4927984058144051567_o

 

travel2

“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.

Sweetwater Kayak Symposium trip Report, by Cory Kazawitch

 

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

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

10850253_10204398075566139_1888504089807272468_n

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

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

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

 

11000325_10203047375059167_41539504306091614_o

 

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

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

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

IMG_4640

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.

IMG_3345

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.

IMG_4674IMG_4642 - Version 2

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.

IMG_4144

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.

     1546261_10203196185171531_727231666_n

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.

IMG_4158    IMG_4159

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.

photo 3

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

GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS

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

February 20, 2013

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

Here’s the scene:

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

 

 

He stops.

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

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

 *     *     *     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

 *     *     *     *     *

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

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

 

 

 *     *     *     *     *

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Chicago Mountaintop

 

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

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

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

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

December 15, 2012

Dear friend,

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

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

I went paddling.

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

 

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

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

“I lost my anger.”

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

I invite you

– encourage you

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

Andrea:

1. Name:  Andrea Knepper

2. My connection to CAT:  Founder and Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Miller:

1. Name: Stephanie Miller

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

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

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

Cycling with the Night Ministry

Grace:

1. Name: Grace Sutherland

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

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

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

 Ryan:

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

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

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

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

Erin:

1. Name: Erin Berry

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

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

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

 

Stephanie Taylor:

1. Name:  Stephanie Taylor

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

3. Awesome thing I did in 2012: Got married

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