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

 

Version 2Recently I went to the Port Austin Symposium. The first time I’ve been, and I was assisting as a coach for the kids program. Now, that may not seem like a lot to the more veteran members of the paddling community, but let me paint a picture. I am an 18 year old black boy, unfortunately when I smile I look even younger, and trust me, I smile a lot. Point is, you don’t see people that look like me often.

It’s often a glaringly obvious fact when I arrive that there aren’t many people like me present. However, this doesn’t make me sad. Okay, it does a little bit. But more than that, it makes me determined. Because to diversify the paddling community, with youth as well as race, would be to revitalize it. To make it more inclusive.

Working with the kids there showed me the kind of an impact I could have. I thought my biggest challenge that day would be getting all of the kids to wear sunscreen, or handling any temper tantrums on the water, of which there were many. Then came an hour or two into the symposium. I learned that there would be a group of kids coming in from Detroit, and that myself and another CAT PC youth, Tiara, would be coaching them.

This group of kids had a 4 hour drive, and were navigating through traffic. So they would arrive around lunch. The rest of the morning session went fine, with an eventful attempt on our lives by a rogue mother seagull. Right before lunch Andrea arrived to tell Tiara and I that the Detroit group had arrived.

That group happened to be comprised of 5 young black boys, and two black women. I’m generally extremely apprehensive when meeting new people, and Tiara immediately announcing, “Let’s go introduce ourselves” of course didn’t help. But then I remembered my first symposium, and how besides our CAT group, there weren’t many people like me there. So I bucked up and walked over. That was literally the best decision I had made that whole Symposium.

 

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Tiara and I went on to take that group through the motions of kayaking, from gearing up, chowing down, and then paddling out. We taught them proper technique, took them on a little tour around the breakwall, and then brought them back with some good old fashioned rescues, my specialty. I slowly realized that my biggest challenges were gonna be getting them to all wear sunscreen, but this time  there was only one temper tantrum. By the end, we had completely exhausted these enthusiastic boys, and I feel they were better off for having known us. Which is really all you can say sometimes.

The next day I officially met Rowland Woollven.  In his morning class, during the introduction, the funniest thing happened. Everyone was going around introducing themselves and their paddling experience. All these well traveled people boasting 35 years paddling, but only 9 seriously, that sort of thing. And then they get to me. “I’ll have been paddling for a year on July 14th”. Then came the giggles. And I understand, my experience paled in comparison. Or so I thought. Until Rowland clapped me on the back and then announced, “What he forgot to mention was that he’s a coach”. And the giggling stopped.

Over the course of the day I realized that I was better off having known Rowland Woollven. And John Carmody, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching. And Phil Hadley, who assessed my Level 1 Coaching and my FSRT. And honestly, Andrea Knepper, who puts so much work and dedication into helping me achieve my goals in paddling. Who I wouldn’t be going to Scotland without, and frankly I wouldn’t want to.

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Laura StatesirChicago Adventure Therapy is growing! We would like to introduce you to our newest staff member, Laura Statesir. This summer, Laura joined CAT as its first fulltime Program Director. Laura is a seasoned outdoor program manager and instructor with experience directing international adventure schools as well as fourteen years of guiding in both mountain and coastal settings in five different countries.

In college, Laura earned a BS in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences with an Outdoor Education Specialist certificate. Laura is a certified Wilderness First Responder, SCUBA Diver, and CPR/First Aid Instructor. Through CAT, she recently earned her British Canoe Union Two Star Award.

What Laura has to say about her new job:

I have always believed in the power of adventure activities and I am so excited to be a part of CAT’s amazing team. I have been volunteering with CAT for the past three years, mostly by taking youth from the Crib, a local homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth, on adventure activities. I am so pumped about working for CAT because I have seen the ways in which its programs change young people’s lives.

For example, “Matt” is one of the first young people I met through CAT. You can’t help but instantly like him. He’s goofy, friendly and very thoughtful. He took to kayaking like a duck to water. In one hour he mastered a skill that took me months to learn. That was almost three years ago. In that time “Matt” has earned a kayaking certification, been invited to paddle all over the US and even left the country for the first time when we took a group to Mexico.

But the beauty in “Matt”’s story is not about kayaking. It’s about how spending time with “Matt” on the water has changed his life. When I met “Matt”, he didn’t have a job or a place to live. He was sleeping on the streets, crashing on friend’s couches, or staying at the Crib. While “Matt” had many dreams and desired to be self-sustaining, he faced significant barriers like a lack of resources and opportunities, loss of his support system, and discrimination. Few people believed in him and he doubted himself. Day-to-day survival had become his main focus.

Today “Matt” has his own apartment. He has a job and is back in school. He now knows that he can overcome any obstacle in his path. He is responsible for his own life and working towards his dreams.

I believe many of these positive changes in “Matt”’s life are a direct result of his involvement with CAT. Through CAT, “Matt” has a new support system, people who believe in and encourage him. Through CAT, “Matt” has someone in his corner. Through CAT, “Matt” has opportunities he never dreamed possible. Through CAT, “Matt” has improved self-confidence, social intelligence, self-control and resiliency. This past summer “Matt” joined us as a leader on a CAT program. My heart beamed with pride as I watched him lead, support and encourage his peers.

I am so excited to be able to pour into the lives of more young people like “Matt”! That is why I want to work for CAT.

Outside of CAT, you can find me running, playing soccer, eating and trying to find ways to make the Chicago weather warmer. Thank you for believing in CAT and for joining us in our zany efforts to make this world a better place!

Much love,

Laura

 

A Quick Note:

While CAT has needed a fulltime Program Director for many years, our funding has always prevented us from hiring one. To solve this issue, Laura is raising her entire salary. She has asked her friends and family to partner with her by supporting her financially. All of the funds to pay Laura come from individual donors who have designated their contributions for her salary. She is delighted to have the support of so many people who believe in this work and who are committed to using their lives and financial gifts to serve others.

If you wish to donate to Chicago Adventure Therapy, either to support the General Fund or Laura Statesir’s salary, please go to our Donate page.

Gitchi Gumee 2014

Dear friend,

As the Holiday season approaches and the year winds down, we still find ourselves busier than expected, working with some remarkable young people in Chicago. I hope that you will join us by making a generous donation to CAT.

Chicago youth face overwhelming everyday challenges
In 2010,

  • we worked with gang-involved youth who watch their backs every day
  • we worked with youth exiting the Child Welfare System and entering adulthood alone
  • we worked with homeless youth
  • we worked with youth questioning and affirming their sexual orientation or gender identity, trying to figure where and with whom they can be themselves

CAT helps
Here’s what some of our youth had to say this summer:

“I have learned to be a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go. I recommend this program to anyone who is struggling”

“My goal was to face my fears and have a great time doing it. I realy do feel like my goals were acheived because in the end I was climbing like a pro and kayaking like one too even though I was initially not sure I would be able to do either.”

You make it possible

We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons, so we work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic price for them. Over 2/3 of our budget is raised through the generous contributions of individuals like you.

Please make a donation today.