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Archive for the ‘Paddling’ Category

December 15, 2012

Dear friend,

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

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

I went paddling.

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

 

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

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

“I lost my anger.”

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

I invite you

– encourage you

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

Andrea:

1. Name:  Andrea Knepper

2. My connection to CAT:  Founder and Executive Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Miller:

1. Name: Stephanie Miller

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

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

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

Cycling with the Night Ministry

Grace:

1. Name: Grace Sutherland

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

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

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

 Ryan:

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

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

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

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

Erin:

1. Name: Erin Berry

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

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

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

 

Stephanie Taylor:

1. Name:  Stephanie Taylor

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

3. Awesome thing I did in 2012: Got married

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

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

Sea Cave

Pausing to enjoy the day

 

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

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

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

Rock and Water SpoutCloudsWater Spout

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

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

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

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

Cliff and beach

Respite and skill

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

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

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

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

Cook set

Return to the every day

 

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

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

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

–Andrea Knepper, LCSW

Executive Director

You’ve met Jennifer,  Alyssa, and Anne! Now meet a fourth CAT summer intern! Our interns have been with us for a month now, and have already made their mark on our organization. We are so thankful for their work and dedication, and are excited to introduce you to them!

Gayl, second from right, at our BCU Coach 1 Training!

Name: Gayl Monto

Previous/Current Occupation: Professional Organizer (residential and business environments), I believe my confidential, collaborative, and helping objectives and goals simulate a therapeutic relationship for my clients. I am passionate about the clients I work with and maintain longterm relationships.

Childhood Ambition: working with people that want to grow and change internally

3 Words that best describe you: outgoing, insightful, compassionate, creative, problem-solver

Proudest Moment: the birth of my 3 lovely daughters, returning to get my masters as a mother, small business owner, and motivated learner

Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I am passionate about the outdoors and helping people to gain confidence in their abilities to succeed

What have you learned so far in your internship? training sessions learning about the new populations I will be working with, understanding the impact and influence these experiences can have for these youth, excitement that I will be learning so much from the staff and other interns

What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy? AT is a rapidly growing field that can have positive outcomes for youth and other ages as well

We’ve introduced you to Jennifer and Alyssa, now meet a third CAT summer intern! Our interns have been with us for a month now, and have already made their mark on our organization. We are so thankful for their work and dedication, and are excited to introduce you to them!

Next up: Anne!

Only some of the material on our Reading List for Interns!

Name: Anne Carter

Previous/Current Occupation: My background is in education. I’ve taught students from 2nd grade through adult classes. I have also worked at day camps, residential and therapeutic camps in New England.

Childhood Ambition: Ballerina!

3 Words that best describe you: Patient, Lighthearted, Receptive.

Proudest Moment: At the end of a GED course that I taught at a correctional institution, one of my most difficult students said he wanted to continue his education after he got transferred. Inspiring a drive to learn was unbelievable.

Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I’ve seen the impact of adventure activities on individuals labeled with behavioral problems in my previous work and I truly believe in the power of trying new things as an instrument of growth. These types of activities are not as readily available in an urban environment and I believe this avenue for change should be accessible for all. I am excited to have the opportunity to be a part of bringing this unique experience to Chicago’s youth.

What have you learned so far in your internship? This type of work puts participants in the “driver’s seat” because they are involved in the process of the activity and responsible for the outcome.  Learning through natural consequences and group dynamics can be the most powerful experiences.

What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy?  There’s a larger body of research than I expected regarding adventure therapy and brain structure.  As research continues to unfold I look forward to further acceptance of the field of adventure therapy as one that develops stronger mental health through awareness, self-confidence and contemplation.

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Welcome to our new Chicago Adventure Therapy website and blog!

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago River in the snow

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But I believe it 100%.

A new perspective

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Executive Director

Good paddling

 

Ready to Launch on Montrose Beach

 

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

Learning to Surf at Montrose Beach

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

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

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

Devil's Lake

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

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

Fun at the Chicago Shoreline Marathon

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

2009 Relay Club Team First Place!

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