Posts Tagged ‘Paddling’
December 15, 2012
I expect that you, like me, are reeling from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday. Whether it hit you in the gut as you heard the awful news, or took a day to settle in, the enormity of the tragedy is unavoidable.
In the midst of the grief, powerlessness, anger and despair, I did what I often do.
I went paddling.
I went paddling to find silence, perhaps solace, to remember that in the midst of horror and tragedy that we are powerless to fix, the world is also a good place.
It did not lessen the grief, the anger, the despair. It did — whether because it brought me back to myself; because it let me feel my own strength in my arms, my core, my legs; because it offered perspective — it did lessen my feeling of powerlessness.
Paddling today brought me back to myself. I’ve watched it do the same for our kids. One young man last summer showed up to a paddling program angry with the world and refusing to participate. He eventually agreed to paddle in a double kayak with one of the program’s mentors, and got into the boat with a scowl. As we were paddling back an hour and a half later he told me that he had lost something. I didn’t hear what he had lost. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear. What did you lose?” -Did he lose a water bottle? -A flip flop? -Just don’t let it be a pair of glasses!
“I lost my anger.”
As it did for me today, paddling brought this young man back to himself.
I am powerless to fix the horror and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday, or the violence on the streets of Chicago every night, or the abuse or oppression that so many of our young people face every day.
What I CAN do is to work with our Chicago young people. I can help them lose their anger. It is my small contribution to making the world safer for our kids. It feels insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead. Nonetheless it is what I can do.
I invite you
– encourage you
– to join me in making one small contribution to making the world safer for our kids.
- Some of us will hold our kids a little bit tighter and a little bit longer.
- Some of us will advocate for stronger gun laws, better access to mental health services or increased funding for human services.
- Some of us will pray, whether alone or with others.
- Some of us will spread messages of hope on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.
- Some of us will work to get the economy of this nation back on track.
- Some of us will make sure that we tell our friends, our family, our kids, our spouses that we love them. We will make more time to be with them.
– what will remind you of what your small contribution to a safer world for our kids will be.
- Your contribution will be small.
- It will feel insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead, with 6 adults who loved them.
- It will make a difference.
Your contribution, whatever it is, will join mine. They will join the contributions of the other 1,265 people who will receive this note via email or see it posted on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.
1,267 people each doing one small thing will make the world safer for our kids
If one small thing for you includes a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy, I promise you that it will make a difference.
After a VERY busy summer here at CAT, I had a chance to take a short solo camping trip last week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a GREAT trip – utterly beautiful.
For me, getting into the wilderness centers me and grounds me. It gently, almost imperceptibly pushes aside all the things that don’t matter, and reminds me of who I am. It allows me to be fully present in the moment.
That respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – it helps me get back to calm after a busy, hectic, exciting, fabulous summer. And so I am reminded, also, how important that respite, that pause, that chance for worry to fall away – how important that is for our young people.
Don’t get me wrong – there was plenty of excitement, too! A solo kayak camping trip is not something to be taken lightly. The weather changes just as dramatically whether you’re solo or with a group. When it comes down to it, the Lake is in charge.
You have to know and understand the risks. You have to know your own skills and limits. You have to respect the weather and the conditions. You have to be ready to change your plans, whether you want to or not. You may well be nervous, even scared, during parts of your trip.
I had several tricky judgement calls to make. For instance – one should not paddle with water spouts! On Day 2 I paddled around a point to find a water spout front and center. I got ready to turn around and hightail it back to land – but I paused because I was mesmerized by the beauty and the awe of the water and the spout. As I watched, the water spout and the rest of its cloud moved east quickly, there was clear sky behind it to the west, and I was traveling north. I kept paddling in calm waters and the water spout eventually disappeared.
Or how about this one? You should not paddle in conditions beyond your limit. Listen to the forecast and heed it. The night before I planned to paddle out, the forecast was calling for 4-7 foot waves the next day. I like to play in those conditions with friends on a sandy beach with an unloaded boat. I do NOT paddle in those conditions solo around cliffs with a loaded boat! The conditions didn’t materialize in my sheltered bay the next day but I was concerned about north winds and the north-facing point I needed to round in order to get home. I watched, and could see that the bay had waves less than a foot high – well within my limits as a solo paddler. I could see larger waves on the horizon, but it looked like my point was still in the lee of the rest of the island. And I could see that there was a safe place for me to go where I could see around the point. I paddled out, reminding myself that if conditions warranted I MUST go back and re-set camp to paddle out two days after my planned departure, when the winds were forecast to settle down again. I got to my observation spot of the point to find a few gentle 3 foot waves – at the edge of what I’m willing to do solo, and diminishing the farther around the point I could see. I paddled out that day.
So I ended up paddling solo with water spouts one day and in a 4-7 foot forecast the next. Without the background info, I would call bad judgment if I heard about someone doing that.
But it was fabulous, it was safe, and the combination of respite and honed observation or risk had remarkably rejuvenating effects. The combination of respite, pause, a chance for worry to fall away on the one hand; and excitement, risk, careful consideration of sensory stimulation sorted through a filter of what we know about our chosen activity – this combination can get our brain working well. It can get our brain making creative connections, without the overstimulation and inability to stop that comes with chronic trauma or with other constant, unending stimulation. I won’t go into the brain chemistry and morphology involved – it’s fascinating and deeply relevant for the work we do with Chicago youth, but I won’t do it justice. My brain certainly started working better. As did my heart and my soul.
I had lots of ideas about CAT programming, about a staff retreat out here, about all sorts of stuff. What I am left with is this:
We talk a lot about the importance of respite for our young people. Providing for respite is recognized as one of the necessary components of trauma-based interventions. I think that sometimes we forget what that really means, and why it’s so important. We get caught up in making sure we’re matching the right theory with the right population; that we’ve got an effective debrief; that we’re building life skills that can be measured in order to prove we’re doing quality work with important outcomes; that we can articulate why and how we do what we do. The list of important considerations goes on and on.
What I am left with after this trip is the visceral reminder of the importance of respite.
I am home now, the cook set and other gear is washed and put away, and I have returned to find fall waiting for me. It’s a season when we do a lot of reflection and planning. We want our young people to learn to assess the risk in their lives and develop skills for managing it. We want them to be able to think critically in the midst of nervousness or fear. We want them to make good decisions. We want a lot of things for our young people!
This fall I will remember that as we carefully plan interventions that allow our young people to assess risk, to think before they act, to communicate clearly, to solve problems effectively, to develop a personal confidence they hadn’t had before – I will remember that this active part of our programming must always be balanced with respite, pause, and a chance for the worries to fall away. At its best, our programming should gently, almost imperceptibly push aside all the things that don’t matter, and allow our young people to be fully present in the moment. It should remind them of who they are.
Wishing you all a great fall, full of challenge and respite!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Welcome to our new Chicago Adventure Therapy website and blog!
I don’t know just what to say in welcome. When I don’t know what to say or where to start, I usually start with the here and now. Right now, I’m sitting here on a sunny, blue-sky January day, with a cold front coming through tonight to bring us 6 inches of snow.
Corny as it sounds, the warm sunny day with its impending Winter Storm Watch brings me to what I’d like to say today.
Because the weather is at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We’ve all gotten to keep our winter coats in waiting; we’re all gonna get dumped on. The weather doesn’t play favorites.
But we’ll all take the news of snow in so many different ways. If you’re a paddler and you’ve been enjoying the extended Chicago paddling season, you might be disappointed. If you’re a skier, you’ll be pleased. If you’re harried with the everyday work slog, you’ll be annoyed to have to get up a half hour earlier to clear ice and snow from your car…
Personally, I’m hoping that the snow comes early, and that I can play hooky for a few hours and go paddle on the Chicago River. I think the River might be at it’s prettiest in the snow.
When I paddle on the River, I’m reminded that there are those who experience the River as a means of survival, not recreation. I’ve learned which bridges have dwellings under them; where there are people who want to be quiet and unnoticed, and where the guys are who will give me a hard time; whether it’s a make-shift dwelling with beer and a pile of clothing, or a well-designed shelter made by someone with solid campcraft skills.
My point is this. Chicago’s resources are like the weather. They are at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We all experience them. We’ve all got the River, the Lake, the parks, free days at the museums. But those resources mean such different things for each of us. The River is a recreational treasure for me. For the people living along its banks, it’s a means of survival.
The youth we serve experience Chicago’s resources radically differently than most of us reading this blog. When I paddle by a shelter along the Chicago River, I find myself thinking about the youth we work with at The Night Ministry – youth who sleep at friends’ houses, at shelters, outside – wherever they can find a place. I hope with everything in me that while they’re still young, we can help them develop the personal resources they need so that as adults they won’t be living in one of those shelters.
But it’s not just personal resources they need. They need access to our city’s resources.
I want to digress a moment to tell you about a friend of mine. I’ve known him for maybe 7 years. “Joe” grew up in the Lathrop Homes. He’s got a history riddled with violence, mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. When I met him, he lived along the River. When he gets lonely or his heart breaks, he thinks about going back there, because he doesn’t have to deal with other people when he’s under the bridge.
“Joe” and I once had a very long conversation about the guys in the gang prevention group we work with. I asked “Joe” for his advice and insight because as a boy and young man he was successful in the Latin Kings. I asked him to help me to understand the realities of a life so far removed from mine.
The next day, “Joe” called me. He told me it was really important. He said
I have to talk to you about the kids you work with. You just have to love them. That’s what you have to do. You have to love them.
I don’t want our youth to have an adult life like “Joe’s.” Our hope, our job, our dream, our mission at CAT – is to make a difference in their lives so that their adult life is different than “Joe’s.” We look everywhere we can to figure out how to make that difference.
- Our first program evaluation is almost complete
- Our staff has been working hard to develop and define out Clinical Frame
- I talk to “Joe” fairly frequently, to try to get a better understanding of what life and this city really is for our youth
- We look to Best Practices in the field of Adventure Therapy, recent brain research, and a variety of clinical theories and practices in our program development
- We try to give our youth access to the amazing resources this city has to offer
The most important point underlying all of this is to follow “Joe’s” advice – to build authentic, appropriate relationships with our youth.
Sometimes it sounds a little silly to me to say that we’re changing our youth’s lives by taking them paddling; or making the city better by climbing with our youth.
But I believe it 100%.
Imagine our 4 weeks paddling with a group of 15 girls from Alternatives, Inc. The first week, many of the girls were scared to put their toes in the water. They were scared of fish, sharks, drowning, barracuda, getting their hair wet… Stephanie had bruises on her arm at the end of the first day because one girl held onto her arm so tightly the entire time – in knee-deep water. The next week, we went into water that was over their heads, to many screams and squeals and shouts of “I’m gonna die!” The next week, we went into water not only over their heads, but deep enough that they couldn’t see the bottom. This was when several of them, including the girl who bruised Stephanie’s arm, got out of the boats and learned to swim. The last week, we paddled beyond the pier at the south end of Montrose Beach. If you know that beach, you’ll know that when you round the pier, you lose sight of the beach. And you get about the most spectacular view of this city’s skyline that you can find anywhere. These girls got that view on a perfect summer Lake Michigan day, when the water has just a touch of movement to it, and a color that rivals any Caribbean beach.
Here’s the exciting part – memory and emotion are stored close together in the brain. The neurons activated in each are close together, so they spill over into each other a little. The emotion that goes with that day and that view – the magic that is a combination of accomplishment, wonder, satisfaction, camaraderie – that emotion is tied to that view of Chicago; it’s one piece of their experience of Chicago. They literally, concretely saw this city as they’ve never seen it before.
Chicago for them is just a little bit changed. — And it’s theirs.
I love the warm weather we’ve been having. And I can’t wait for the winter beauty that comes with fresh snow. I hope that both will remind me that we’re all in this city together; and also that this city treats people very differently based on race, ethnicity, economic status, gender expression and sexual orientation, access to power, and a lot of other sad and unjust reasons. I hope that you’ll join me, our staff, our board and our volunteers in the momentous adventure of changing life for our youth, and changing this city for them.
We’ll keep you posted on the adventure, and how you can be a part of it.
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
- She lied
- She was manipulative
- She was very good at pulling each of us away from the group
- She tried to get us to pity her.
- She tried to get us and her peers to admire her.
- She tried to get us to give her enough attention to fill up the hole in her hurting heart.
- We didn’t want to let her take any of us away from the group
- We didn’t want to let her isolate HERSELF from the group
- We didn’t want to ignore any real fear she had
- We didn’t want to ignore any lack of basic resources at home
- We didn’t want to pity her
- I’m a good social worker – I like to think I’m compassionate and that I respond when people need help
- I’m a good guide – I don’t let a group get spread out, especially when the group is kayaking
This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.
- He’s got a great sense of humor, that’s frequently slightly mocking of us, the CAT staff.
- He’s really smart.
- He’s not afraid to call us out when we say something or act in a way that’s not quite right. Which is not to say that our staff is inappropriate – but when we work every day with people who live in a world pretty different from us, we sometimes say things that are offesnsive when we have no intention of doing that. I think it takes a lot of courage and poise for a young person to call out an adult in a position of authority, and to do it appropriately and with humor.
- He’s willing to try almost anything; even when it makes him nervous.
- He’s got remarkable people skills.
- He’s a natural and graceful leader – I have much that I can learn from him.
- I love his enthusiasm for the technical pieces of sea kayaking – “Rico” and I are kindred spirits when it comes to paddling.
- how he helped one of the mentors with his program on our camping trip: She was terrified of heights, to the point of tears and hyperventilation. “Rico” went back down the trail, sat with her, talked with her, and then walked back up the trail slowly right in front of her so she could watch his feet, and make it up the trail.
- how he used his own experience to encourage his peers: On the first paddling program, he challenged me about whether the life jacket would work. When I told him it would float him, he eventually told me “I don’t believe you.” He was the first to capsize that day, and flailed around a lot in the water – until he realized he was standing… The next week I asked him to help a new paddler with his life jacket. “Rico” said “You have to make it tight. Otherwise if you fall in, it’s gonna float up here (indicating his forhead) and it’s not gonna help you. And you have to stay still. If you move around it’s gonna get in your way. You have to be still and it will work.”
- how he worked hard to get his roll: He was scared to put his face in the water; but ended the summer so close to a roll that all the help he needed was a slight push on the boat with one finger. (If you don’t know what a roll is – it’s when you sit in a kayak, turn it upside down, and then bring it right side up again while you’re in it. It’s not in fact difficult to do, but it can be very difficult to learn.)
- how he calls it as he sees it: I was a little bit surprised when he told me that at the beginning of the summer I “talked like a rich person” but that now I talked “more normal.” I was surprised again when I called out one of his peers for mocking us, thinking we weren’t getting it, during a serious discussion. “Rico” grinned and said “you’re starting to understand us.”
- About trauma, and the way it re-wires the brain — and the way our programming can re-wire it again, providing access to the cerebral cortex and the ability to think before acting
- About teaching them what we have come to think of as “Chicago Literacy” – where North is, where downtown or the harbor or the zoo are in relation to their neighborhood, how to get there on CTA, how to read a map – so that these guys can have access to their city
- About what it is for them to get some simple respite, away from their neighborhood; a chance to let their guard down
- About the way their faces soften when they start talking about the beauty we introduce them to; about the paucity of beauty in their lives
- we hope he sticks to his decision
- we hope his decision gives him more possibility in the rest of his life
- we can’t claim that we had anything to do with it
- we’re glad we have had the opportunity to meet him
The whole group did a great job with these goals, and Michael and Jeremy were no exception. I especially appreciated their willingness to help that first afternoon. I had never kayaked before, and was learning some basic skills- paddle strokes, maneuvering, wet exits, and my favorite: the cowboy self-rescue. All 5 youth had experience paddling, so each helped me learn what I needed to know out on the water.
I especially remember Michael and Jeremy helping me learn the cowboy reentry. If you aren’t familiar, this self rescue has the paddler re-enter their boat by ‘swimming’ up onto the deck, scooting around until she’s straddling it, and then pulling herself forward until she can sit herself back into the cockpit. Not only did I need help learning the steps- which the brothers patiently led me through- I also needed help finding the motivation to jump into the chilly water. They were pretty convincing, and pretty funny, as they tried to come up with reasons for me to jump in. Alas, I took the cold plunge and didn’t regret it!
The rest of the weekend was challenging, fun, and pretty impressive. On the first night, we weathered a nasty storm, which blew over 2 tents, a pop- up, and had us all outside at 3am, reconfiguring sleeping arrangements. Our youth were pros, though, and dutifully helped come up with a plan to get everyone dry, warm, and back to sleep.
When we wrapped up the weekend of kayaking and climbing over pancakes and bacon on Sunday morning, we asked each of the youth what they would take away from this experience, with an emphasis on what they learned about leadership. Michael and Jeremy both chimed in with thoughts about always having a Plan B, having the skills to adapt to a new situation, and being able to help a group reach its goals.
As a clinician, I would say all 5 of these youth already had the skills they needed to make the trip a success. I think, though, what the trip really did for each, especially for the two young men, was give them a new experience in an emotionally safe environment, where they could practice those skills around a group that completely understood and believed in their ability to step up. They weren’t out there to prove to Andrea and me that they could be strong leaders, they were out there to prove it to themselves. And once they did, they were ready to go back home, with some pretty great stories to share, and fit those skills into their every day existence.
— Grace Sutherland, MSW
*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes