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Posts Tagged ‘gang-involved youth’

“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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Nelson-Mandela’s-Top-Five-Contributions-to-Humanity
Nelson Mandela died yesterday.

A man who, as our own President said a few hours later, “took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

As photos and news stories, quotes and tributes began to fill the internet, I, like many others, found myself looking at memories.

And then, an interesting thing started to happen. A few articles started to appear that said, essentially, “let’s remember ALL of history.” Let’s remember Nelson Mandela’s full story.  Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years because justice does not come easily. Equality does not arrive on its own.

For many of us of a certain age, Nelson Mandela may have been the person who was the impetus for some of our first forays into political action. A friend reminisced about avoiding Coca Cola products in high school and college, as part of the boycotts of corporations invested in South Africa. In 8th grade, I added a “Divest Now” button to my store of political buttons. We boycotted and called for divestment because our own country was fully complicit in practices and policies that upheld Apartheid.

People – whether individuals, countries or corporations – rarely give up privilege, convenience or wealth voluntarily. And so Mandela, a Freedom Fighter, was a prisoner before he was the President; he was dubbed a “terrorist” before he was honored as a “statesman.”

I was reminded of how much easier it is to claim heroes as our own after they have “won” than while they are fighting. Had Nelson Mandela died in the 1960’s or the 1980’s, at the beginning and in the midst of his struggle for justice and for equality in South Africa,  few Americans and few American organizations would have paid tribute to him the way we did yesterday.  Even the best lawyers cannot stand resolutely for justice when it is not yet the law of the land takes a courage, perseverance and vision that few people have.  And it requires risking more than most of us are willing to risk.

Whatever the challenge, whatever the risk – our kids in Chicago need us to summon some small piece of Nelson Mandela’s vision; some fraction of his courage; and as much perseverance as we possibly can. Our kids are not just “making bad decisions.” They are struggling mightily in situations stacked against them.
• Some of the kids we work with grow up with no examples of options beyond the gangs that dominate their neighborhood
• Some of the kids we work with are thrown out of their homes in adolescence because of their sexual orientation or gender expression
• Some of the kids we work with come from families without the money for college, and have no access to financial aid or to military service – both of which sometimes provide access to college for kids who can’t afford it – because they are not citizens
• Most of the kids we work with live in poverty
• Most of the kids we work with experience systemic racism every day

These are questions of justice. We want to help our kids make good decisions, develop positive self-esteem, learn solid problem-solving skills, become good team members and communicators. But this is not enough. Our kids need justice. They need equal access to a solid education, to the resources of this city, to not just adequate but good health care. The list goes on…

Yesterday, President Obama said “His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings—& countries—can change for the better.” We share Obama’s words with you today in the hope that our own country, and our own City, can change for the better.

“The day…he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when…guided by their hopes rather than…fears.” At CAT, we hope to have the courage and the vision to stand for justice now, when our kids need us to.  When, in this city, it is not yet easy.

What our kids can do, when guided by hopes, not fears, will be something to stand back and watch. Because we work with some of the most amazing young people in this city – and we’ve seen what they can do when they walk past their fears.

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December 15, 2012

Dear friend,

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

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

I went paddling.

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

 

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

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

“I lost my anger.”

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

I invite you

– encourage you

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here is my hope for “Rico.”
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I would like to help him find a job in the outdoor industry.  He’s got the natural leadership skills and athletic ability to make an excellent outdoor leader.  When I asked him about it, he took it very seriously and told me that yes, he was interested.
More to the point – one of the mentors in his program told me that his gang has also noticed his leadership ability, and is recruiting him pretty hard.  A job in the outdoor industry could potentially give him an opportunity to use his leadership skills, still give him the adrenaline rush that he likes, and give him job experience.  It could provide the opportunity for a very different life – a life that could give him the opportunity to travel the world, rather than a life bounded by a territory four city blocks in size. 
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This is my hope for “Rico.”  We are trying to give him the opportunity.