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Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

“We got our Three’s!”

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

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.

Many cannabinoids have therapeutic value and CBD is no exception. Wellness is a personal pursuit, which is why CBD Therapy is pleased to offer a wide range of THC-free CBD products to help you create a customized care regimen. Anyone who suffers from aches and pains, either chronically or intermittently, will appreciate our emollient salves, creamy body butter, soothing lip balm, convenient roll-on oils, relaxing flower bath tea bags, and other effective topical products. You can find a lot of CBD-based products even can buy CBD pain salve online to relieve diseases. How about cbd gummies and drug tests? Theoretically, CBD should not show up on a drug test. However, because most CBD products are classified as a supplement, it is not regulated for safety and purity. This means that contamination of the CBD with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) may and does occur, and this may show up on a drug test, depending on the cutoff level of the test and other factors listed below.

Over the next 2 weeks, you get to meet Chicago Adventure Therapy’s interns! They’ve been with us for almost a month now, and have already made their mark on our organization. We are so thankful for their work and dedication, and thought you’d like to witness their awesomeness for yourself!

Today, meet Jennifer!

The staff and interns attempt some teamwork at the 2012 Intern Orientation.

 

Name: Jennifer Lipske
Previous/Current Occupation: Special Education Teacher
Childhood Ambition: I wanted to be a teacher or an astronaunt.
3 Words that best describe you: Dependable, Competent, Flexible
Proudest Moment: The day I became a mother, and going back to school for my Master’s in Social Work.
Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I chose to intern at CAT because I want to work with adolescents and young adults and help them achieve their goals, realize their strengths, and empower themselves. I believe CAT offers a unique opportunity to reach young people through the use of adventure therapy and provides them with the tools they need to achieve growth and change.
What have you learned so far in your internship? I have learned about a wide variety of adolescent populations and some of the challenges they face everyday, and this has made me more aware of the world as they see it. I also got on a rock climbing wall for the first time which was amazing!
What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy? I am surprised at how much this opportunity has effected my life already and how just being out in natural settings can really be an empowering feeling and a powerful vehicle for change.  
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Meaghan ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for CAT last year. Thanks, Meaghan! Read about her experience below and see some of the pictures CAT staff took at the Charity Block Party at Mile 14! For more info on the Chicago Marathon, head over to our racing page!
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Meaghan writes:
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I was approached by my very dear friend, Stephanie Miller, one day and asked, “Hey, have you ever thought about running the marathon?” I replied, “Well, yes, actually, I have. It’s one of the things on my life’s to-do list, my bucket list.” Stephanie quickly responded, “Would you want to run it this year?” Oh, wow, this year? I hadn’t been running very consistently and had always figured a marathon was a few years away. I told Stephanie I wasn’t sure, but asked her why she had asked. Was she planning on running it?? Because if she was going to run it, I totally was going to run it. Sadly, she told me that she was not planning on running, but that the organization that she works for, CAT, was looking for runners to fundraise for them and run the marathon. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe if I was supporting a good cause and if they helped me out a bit, I just might be able to pull it off. Of course, I was still skeptical about my ability to actually run this thing, but figured I’d hear her out. She told me that CAT would assist me in fundraising and would provide me with a coach. The amount I had to raise for CAT was a very attainable goal and I knew I would definitely need a coach if I was going to run A MARATHON! So, to both our amazement, I agreed! Uh oh, what did I get myself into? Oh, well. Too late. And, that feeling quickly passed. I was happy to be raising money for such a great organization. CAT is such a unique organization that does really great work with inner-city youth. I enjoyed telling people who I was raising money for and most people had never heard of CAT. I enjoyed spreading the word.
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At the beginning, before I had started training, there were a couple meetings with a couple of the other runners to throw around some fundraising ideas. The ideas from someone who had ran a few races and had experience fundraising was helpful. She let us know how often to email people, what types of things to include in the emails, and just some good tips about fundraising. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in any group fundraising, but that probably would have been a lot of fun.
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The best part of being associated with CAT for the marathon was access to Coach Brendan and his running group. I emailed Coach Brendan a billion times, a few before I even met him, asking him all kinds of questions – did I need new shoes?; how should I be changing my diet?; should I try to get out of this commitment?; am I really going to be ready to run a marathon at the end of this?. He is an amazing guy who kindly answered all of my questions and didn’t make me feel strange for asking all of them. Coach Brendan was available via email for any question I had along the way. He would make sure he spent time getting to know you when you showed up for training runs and he would run or bike alongside you to watch your form, ask how you were doing, and give you some tips. He was always available after runs to talk about how you were feeling. I met some great people through this training group and ran with some of them on race day and still keep in touch with them – and am planning to run with them again this Spring to train for a half-marathon (yes, just a half…the full thing is no joke!).
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Ok, I know earlier I said the best thing about running for CAT was the Coach Brendan training, but I lied. There were a few “best” things: Coach Brendan, fundraising for CAT, meeting new people, talking about CAT along the way,…but I think the best part for me was seeing Stephanie out of nowhere run up to me with a sign she had made for me and having her run alongside me telling me how proud she was and how thankful she was that I ran for CAT. Since then, I have met more of the CAT family and everyone is so passionate about what they do for CAT. It was hard to say no to Stephanie when she asked me to run the marathon because I know she so strongly believes in CAT and its mission, which made me want to do what I could to help support that. Now, after meeting even more members of CAT, I can honestly say I am so glad I did it and I wouldn’t want to fundraise for anyone else. I won’t be running the marathon for a while (if ever), but I’ll be sure to make CAT my fundraising beneficiary if I do!

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.