Posts Tagged ‘2011’
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.
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%.
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.
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
- 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
This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.
- 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.
- 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.”
We’ve had a busy summer. We have more, but it’s drawing to a close. As we get just a bit less busy, I find myself contemplating the summer. The range of emotions I’ve felt working with our youth has been as wide as the Grand Canyon. The program that brought me to tears the most frequently was the gang prevention program we work with in Little Village.
Yes – I admit it – the guys brought me to tears, and more than once.
I cried when I got the email from our contact there saying he needed to cancel a program because they were holding a funeral for one of the youth that day. The young man was shot and killed.
I cried when one of the guys showed up with bruises all over his face because he’d been “beat out.” He’d made a decision to leave the gang – which meant that he had to show up for a scheduled appointment to be beat up by the people who’d been his closest friends for years. I cried because I was so proud of him. I cried because no kid – no person – should have to be beat up by their closest friends in order to live a life that isn’t bound by violence. I cried because I can’t imagine having the strength to change the course of my life like that, in opposition to my peers, when I was 16 years old. I cried because when it came down to it, I didn’t know what to make of it, or, really, just how to feel. I cried that we live in such a world. I cried that our youth live in such a world. I cried for the hope of changing the world for these guys.
I cried when we went camping with this group, too – when they started talking about beauty at the end of the trip. I was stunned when someone said that our evening paddle on the trip was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. I cried because I often forget the beauty at Devil’s Lake – I’ve been incredibly lucky to go to many places I consider more beautiful. So it brought me up short to realize the lack of beauty in these guys’ lives. And it made me cry because of the impact that beauty can have on a person. These are tough guys – their peer who was killed earlier in the summer was much like them. They’re all familiar with violence. But there was such softness in their faces when, just for a moment, they talked about beauty.
I almost cry, if it weren’t for the absurdity, when I think about how scared these guys are of the activities we do – especially the climbing and kayaking. But that they’re not scared to pack a gun or Hunting Rifles. That they have a hard time trusting the safety of a belay system or a life jacket; but they don’t understand that much of the activity in their daily lives is more dangerous. You can imagine we talked a lot about safety and risk management with them.
I laughed so hard I cried – and nearly peed my pants! – when we did a Harbor cleanup with them. At the very end, one of the land-based crews spotted money floating all over the water, and sitting on the bottom as well! So – probably not my best moment – but with their suggestion, prompting, laughter and disbelief – I dove for the money. Yes, I dove for singles with the serial numbers cut out. I came up with fistfuls of money, to their disbelief not that I would dive for money, but that I would get into that water. And, despite their disbelief, to directions about where next to dive! The intensity of their directions was hilarious! We called the police, made a report, and turned over the money – because it was the right thing to do, and bills with serial numbers cut out are a little sketchy, to say the least! (I was impressed with how they handled themselves around the cops, too.) The spontaneity, shared laughter, engagement and absurdity that we all shared was one of the greatest moments of my summer. A summer that started with us not knowing if these guys would ever open up to us in the least; or if we’d be able to forge the slightest connection with them.
Thank you for making so much possible!
Thanks you for changing lives.
My thanks, too, to our many partners, especially The Northwest Passage, Lincoln Park and Lakeview Athletic Clubs, Bike Chicago, and Alliance for the Great Lakes
Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Founder and Director
2010 was a banner year for us. We worked with over 300 youth, compared to the 35 we worked with in 2008 when we started programming. We added several new youth-serving organizations as partners, and also added a new outdoor partner and went cross-country skiing for the first time. We’ve added staff members and board members as well. Sometimes, we hardly recognize ourselves… What has stayed the same through the first three years of official programming is that our dedicated, energetic and creative staff provide services that offer life-changing experiences for our youth. We never stop being inspired – blown away, really! – by the challenges our youth accept and the change we see in them as a result.