Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
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 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.
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
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.
- 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.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Last, but certainly not least, meet intern Sarah!
You’ve met four of our wonderful interns! Now, meet our 5th- Erin.
Name: Erin Berry
Previous/Current Occupation: Full-time Student, Part-time barista and teller
Childhood Ambition: Probably a doctor or a teacher
3 Words that best describe you: Honest, loyal, and stubborn
Proudest Moment: Graduating college with honors; it was a hard battle at the end.
Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I was really attracted to their use of strengths-based therapies and self-empowerment strategies while helping youth be active and exposing them to activities they might not have ever tried before.
What have you learned so far in your internship? I’ve learned a bit about the brain, and how brain-based learning is making it’s way into adventure therapy. There is quite a debate going on about creating stressful environments for a client, and whether or not it produces or inhibits change.
What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy? Something that has surprised about CAT is their ability to do so much, and help so many youth, with so little. It’s really fascinating and inspiring.
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
- She lied
- She was manipulative
- She was very good at pulling each of us away from the group
- 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.
- 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
- 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