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Posts Tagged ‘Therapy’

August 7, 2013
We’ve had a busy summer.  We want to tell you all about it – but instead we’re going to tell you about one special weekend.  What you’ll find below are some excerpts from what the organizers of the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium had to say about the Gitchi Gumee Project –  a project we helped pilot last year, that was even more exciting and successful this year.
Enthusiastic paddler
THE GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT
In July of 2012 the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium created a pilot program to bring inner city youth from Chicago to experience the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and to learn the sport of sea kayaking.  Our goal was to immerse our youth into our existing program, guiding them through the skills of kayaking, camping, and the kayak community.  The experience was an overwhelming success for the organizers as well as the participants.  Who do we thank for this year’s success?  Paddle Sports Industry leader Kokatat – who stepped up to the plate and funded a good portion of our pilot program and made these kids’ dreams possible!
The Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium is seeking funding from the Paddle Sports Industry to develop and maintain a kayak program for inner city youth. As we introduce our young people to a  sport that would usually be closed to them, we believe it to be an ethical imperative to help keep access open to the sport and the community in which it takes place for every young person who wants to do more of it.
The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, racial and ethnic minorities will compose about half of the country’s population. Racial and ethnic minorities have traditionally been under-represented as visitors to national parks. An example, a recent survey of a representative sample of Americans found that 32 percent of whites had visited a national park in the last two years compared to only 13 percent of blacks.  Let’s face it….the sport of sea kayaking is a very white sport and we are determined to change that.
Surfing
2013 GREAT LAKES SEA KAYAK SYMPOSIUM RECAP
At Chicago Adventure Therapy, we work with under-served youth using outdoor skills to build life skills.  It sounds a little bit dry, in the way that good social work missions can sound.  The way it plays out, at its best, is that we get to watch young people do what they believed to be impossible.
It’s fantastic when we watch young people climb to the top of an outdoor climbing wall and look out over the top of Chicago; or when we help them paddle out around the end of a pier jutting 200 yards into Lake Michigan, and they see the Chicago skyline from a perspective they’ve never seen, and feel as though they paddled to Alaska, for the challenge and exhilaration it provides.
We’ve been looking for ways to introduce our young people to the communities that gather around the sports we introduce them to – so we were all in when Bill Thompson and Down Wind Sports invited us to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in 2012.  We invited Lynette Spencer, Executive Director of Adventure Works of DeKalb County, to join us, Kokatat stepped in as the first sponsor, and the Gitchi Gumee Project was born in a small pilot that was amazing to watch.
Getting familiar with the boats
This year, in 2013, we expanded the pilot for Gitche Gumee 2 –  a group of 20 people (11 young people and 9 adults) from Chicago, DeKalb and Detroit.  Our planning started by thinking about how to make sure the group of kids from three different places had the opportunity to become a single group instead of three.  We struggled to get the gear to outfit the whole group for Lake Superior paddling – but this was something that needed to happen, so we made it happen with help from a number of outfitters, and even more individuals.
When we arrived in Grand Marais, volunteers helped the kids set up their tents, while three additional coaches helped Andrea unload all the boats, fit donated spray skirts to the boats, assign kids to boats and adjust the fit and then reload all the boats so we could paddle in a different location the next morning.  This was just the first example of many when the paddling community came together to make this happen.
For some of the kids, this was when they realized they were going to get to kayak, not “listen to boring lectures about kayaking,” as one young person put it at our closing bonfire.  There was rain that first night, and several people who woke up to wet sleeping bags.  We pulled out sleeping bags to dry, re-set tents, and headed indoors instead of outdoors for the first part of the beginning kayaking class – whose ranks of 5 we swelled to 25!  The afternoon found us at Grand Sable Lake, where coaches Chris Delridge and Jim Palermo deftly presided over a long discovery learning session.  The wind kept us at a gentle beach, and the group practiced wet exits, scrambles, T-rescues and paddling.  When they paddled back against the wind to the launch, I was surprised to see the improvement in their skills.
One young man in particular inspired everyone who saw him.  We’ll call him Ricardo.  Ricardo had a panic attack with his first wet exit.  A coach with the group and a social worker with the group brought the incident to the attention of Andrea while a volunteer worked with him to paddle short distances.  Eventually we spent about 45 minutes with Ricardo, working on a step by step sequence to get him back to doing a wet exit.  After paddling, stepping out of his boat in shallow water, deliberately putting his face in the water for longer and longer time periods, holding a coach’s hand while he practiced letting his PFD float him on his back, on his stomach and with his face in the water – after all this he did a several full on wet exits.  A very quiet young man, the grin on his face was subtle.  Two days later he surfed 2+ foot waves with Danny Mongno – and his grin was anything but subtle!
Smiles
Two of the coaches who worked with the group that day reflected on the experience:
•    This program shows the power of outdoor activities to motivate, to challenge, and to open up lines of communication in children from various backgrounds. To see the shy and introverted smile and show excitement and self-confidence, the normally self-centered helping others, or one afraid of water rolling three days later…wow, what a feeling.  (Chris Delridge, Riverside Kayak Connection)
•    I was not sure what I’d expected being with the kids from CAT and Detroit. What I found was that these kids were some of the most delightful, thankful, and appreciative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being with. The benefit I believe they received from the project this year was immense. I saw huge gains in self confidence, skill, problem solving, and reaching out to other people. This
project has got to go on and expand way beyond it’s current state. (Jim Palermo, West Michigan Coastal Kayak Association)
One of the most challenging parts of the trip came that evening, with severe thunderstorms that brought sideways rain and waterspouts on Lake Superior.  As the storm continued with incredible force, we got permission to sleep inside in the community center.  But when the rain subsided while it was still light out, we discovered that with the exception of one tent that was in the middle of a puddle, all the rest stayed dry.  The young Detroit man in that 2-person tent (the young man who’d spent so much time with wet exits) moved in with the two young men from Chicago in a larger tent, and everyone decided to sleep outside.  One girl was still wary of sleeping in the tents that night – so her older sister, sleeping in a tent by herself, invited her to share a tent.  We have to report, there was a lot of giggling coming from that tent that night and the rest of the nights we were there!  This was the first time ever sleeping in a tent for many of the young people – so they had to dig pretty deep to make that call – especially since we warned them that more rain was coming overnight.  More rain did come, the tents stayed dry, and people woke up happy.
The next day, everyone took different classes.  Some people took Ben Lawry’s forward stroke class – the evidence is still on our paddles in the form of electrical tape…  Some took a bracing class, some took a boat control class, one person took a rolling class, some people took a rescue and towing class, one person took Danny Mongno’s all day “open water adventure” class – both he and Danny came back raving about each other and the class – and the young man may have some good leads towards a job in the outdoor industry.  Another girl successfully nailed her angel roll – reports vary that she did it from 4 times to 10 times.
John Browning, a coach well known in the Milwaukee area for offering ACA IDW’s and ICE’s around the Midwest, worked with a large percentage of the group on bracing and boat control.  He writes:
This was the second year that I had the pleasure of working with participants of the Gitchi Gummee Project at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium. And again this year I came away with hope in my heart for the participants. I’m often exposed to the perils of inner-city youth while working in urban EMS, and I see the hopelessness they are faced with – I often say afterwards that “they don’t have a chance”.  The participants of the Gitchi Gummee Project are provided with opportunities and skills that give them a chance to break out of the web of poverty, dispair and racism. On Friday I had the honor to work with many of them in the morning for a bracing class. This required them to overcome the usual fears of capsize. And, in the afternoon I had many of them in a boat control class. Both of these classes gave them the base of skills, and the confidence, that allowed them to take on the open waters of Lake Superior on Saturday. To see the photos of the expressions on their faces as they surfed the waves is priceless! I’ve always tried to make a difference in others, I believe that with the Gitchi Gummee Project I’ve made a difference, and they in turn made a difference in those of us privileged enough to have worked with them. Programs like this are necessary to the survival of inner city youth. They are our future and we cannot turn our back on them. If they are game to try sea kayaking, or any number of other adventure outdoor activities, there are many of us willing to step forward and help them. The outdoor industry should whole heartedly support such programs. It’s the right thing to do, and is good for all.
Not to call that a full day yet, we ended the day with bar-b-qued chicken made over a fire on the beach, followed by s’mores and the Big Dipper.  The stars are always a hit with the Gitche Gumee Project!
Danny
The next day, most of the group spent all day with Danny Mongno.  Most had just paddled the first time two days before – and today they completed T-rescues, unconscious person rescues, paddled out beyond the breakwall, jumped off the breakwall after their boats and scrambled in, and went to the outside beach to surf their boats.  There were only 10 other participants at the symposium who got into the surf that day.  One of the coaches working with the group was jealous of Ricardo’s surfing skill.  Every last person there commented on the face-splitting grin plastered all over his face when he caught a nice long ride.
Jumping off the break wall
Lori Stegmier, a coach from Michigan, reflected that she too was nervous to work with the group.
“I was a little reluctant to work with the program at first. I’m more comfortable with adults than I am with teens. However they told me there was a need for an adult female role model so I agreed. How wrong I was. Those kids were amazing to the point where I came close to tears several times. Days later I am still re-living it and sharing the story of the impact those amazing kids had on me. Sign me up for next year.
Two people there for the symposium took the morning off to give two young people a tour of the UP.  One had a bum knee, and the other wanted a break from paddling.  They came back ecstatic about the log slide from the timber industry days, and excited about how to tell the difference between different types of maples.  Go figure – a Chicago girl waxing eloquent about the leaves on different types of maples – from a girl who couldn’t pick out a maple from any other tree before this trip.
At the pasty dinner Saturday night, one of the girls from Detroit won the raffle for registration for two for the East Coast Paddle Fest.  “Maria” wants to take her sister.  Before the event was over, we’d had offers from three different sources to cover her air fair or get it covered – and at the time of writing we’ve had offers from 5 sources.  Andrea is planning to go as well, in order to help “Maria” and her sister navigate the symposium.
The weekend ended with a bonfire on the beach.  When people were asked to thank one person for something they did over the weekend, most people thanked everyone.  There were tears around the fire, lots of thank you’s for specific moments and for the opportunity, and lots of laughter.
Fun on the beach in the evening
Post Symposium Coach/Staff Interviews
The young people and all of the adults with us were pleased, and the young people were surprised, at the very warm welcome our whole group received.  It would have been easy for them to meet with condescending or patronizing attitudes.  They all noticed that there was very little racial
diversity among the rest of the symposium’s attendees.  That could have ended up being a very uncomfortable position for them – either because they weren’t genuinely welcome and were treated with suspicion; or because people could have been overly enchanted with them precisely because of their race.  What happened instead was that this community welcomed them with open arms.  They remembered our youth from one class to the next.  Coaches and other students alike treated our young people with respect and warmth, and gave them the very best they had to give.
Jeremy Vore, one of the coaches at the event, was especially wonderful with our group.   When I thanked him, he said this:
People like Steve Lutsch, Stan Chladek, Doug VanDoren, Nigel Dennis, and Michael Grey all
welcomed a 14 year old into their circle and facilitated my paddling in a way that would have been impossible without them. What I do now – training and communication with specialties in risk management, decision making, and leadership for both the healthcare and aviation industries – is directly descended from what they taught me on the water 20-some years ago.
I’d like to give that back in some way.  Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you or the kids. I’d very much like to see them come back. The GLSKS is a magical thing for teenagers.
Jeremy continues – We also enjoyed the return of the Gitchi Gumme Project’s Chicago and Detroit youth, who ranged from 13 through 22 years of age. All told, there were 16 participants who camped through torrential rains and gale force winds, suffered bug bites, and paddled in conditions ranging from flat calm to 2+ foot surf. At the end, every single one of them was smiling and energized. I wonder if they realize that they energized the instructors and other participants, too, with their enthusiasm and complete engagement?
If you want to know just how remarkable they were, ask headline instructor Danny Mongno from Werner Paddles. He took them out on Saturday, the roughest, most challenging day of the Symposium. They paddled in conditions, jumped off the breakwall, did all-in rescues, and surfed in open water outside the harbor. And they did it with passion, excitement, and skill! Some of them had only been paddling for a couple of days, yet they handled their kayaks in the surf like much more experienced paddlers, faced their fears, and came away from it with huge smiles and – I hope – a sense of accomplishment.
At the Saturday pasty dinner, Danny said that it had been his best day of instruction, ever. That was my experience when I worked with the Gitchi Gumme Project participants in 2012, too. And it wasn’t because they were from the inner city, were part of some special program, or didn’t fit the usual demographic for sea kayakers. No, their impact is due entirely to the way that they hit the water with open eyes, open minds, and 120% commitment. We could all learn a lot from them.
How was the 2013 program possible?  By paddle sports industry leader Kokatat stepping up to the plate and making these kids dreams possible!
Jim Palermo, who worked with the group the first day, asked me about what happens when they kids return to their “normal” lives.  He was right to have concern – one of the other things we heard around the campfire was “I don’t want to go home.”
Workers at other agencies where the kids receive services notice a difference when the kids return. Here’s what one partner had to say:
Andrea,
It seems like it was such a huge success! Two participants came back RAVING about how awesome it was, and both said it was life-changing. And that you’re hoping to develop a youth leadership program with them?
I’m so excited for them, and for the chance they had this week. It seems like it was an incredible  incredible experience. It sounds like it was really powerful. And like something neither of them would have expected to get to do. I am so grateful that you reached out to us in this. Am curious to hear anything you have to share whenever you settle back in whenever you have time!
We don’t think this is enough, so plans are in the works for follow up.  Chicago Adventure Therapy and Adventure Works of DeKalb both work with young people year round closer to home.  We also have plans for follow up with this particular group of young people.  Future plans include:
•    August 6 – Chicago Gitchi Gumee reunion, paddling – we had a great evening paddle Monday, and started laying the plans for a Leadership Institute for a few of the older participants (another evening paddle is planned for August 19)
•    August 28 – Detriot Gitchi Gumee reunion, paddling – Riverside Kayak Connection, Chris Delridge, Jim Palermo and Andrea; invitation to end the day with an evening paddle for the whole community, hosted by RKC
•    Feb 7-9, 2014 – full group ice climbing in the UP with Bill and Arnie of Down Wind Sports?
Boat info from Danny
Post Symposium Kids Interviews
“All the instructors’ positive encouragement was really helpful.  I could be sitting on the water just paddling and random comments would just come my way about how I’m doing good or improving; its really an emotional boost and great to help keep pushing yourself. And you know people out there you might not even know very well care about you and have your back on the water.”  — age 17, DeKalb, Illinois
“Before I came to Grand Marais [GLSKS] I didn’t even know what a kayak was, how to use it, how to stay afloat, or even how to paddle. I had doubts about doing it. I thought ‘what if I look bad doing this’ but I have to say Grand Marais [GLSKS] taught me one thing, it doesn’t matter unless you’re having fun. I learned so much there because of these people. They were all great and I’m
definitely coming back for more. Thank you guys.” — age 15, DeKalb, Illinois
“Whenever u get the time let us know. Im estatic about practicing and critiquing my skills. We can go ASAP. LOve you and thanks again for the life changing opportunity” (this young man hopes to work in the paddlesports industry!)  — age 22, Chicago, IL
Fun with Cindy Scherrer, winner of the Symposium Race
Thank you Kokatat for
sponsoring the
2013 Gitche Gumee Project!
 

GITCHI GUMEE PROJECT PARTNERS

Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) directly engages urban youth in outdoor activities, using the underutilized outdoor resources in Chicago to help youth have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults.  We use sea kayaking, climbing, navigation and cycling, as well as camping and a few winter sports programs, to build life skills.  We particularly concentrate on communication skills, accountability and reliability, problem-solving skills and decision-making skills.  We see young people face deep-seated fears and develop increased self confidence.  We have also seen an increase in empathy in the young people we have a chance to work with over a longer period of time.
Andrea Knepper, the founder and director of CAT, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a sea kayak coach and a wilderness guide.  The juxtaposition of these experiences provided the idea and motivation for CAT.  She writes, “Leading affluent people on vacations in the wilderness, I sometimes watched it change their lives.  Over the course of a week-end, a 6-year-old girl on one of the family trips I led went from being terrified to paddle a double kayak with her father to demanding a single of her own.  She spent the last day of the trip paddling her own boat, lounging on the top of it, posing as the bowsprit, and chasing turtles.  At the end of the trip, her father was near tears as he tried to express the impact this two day trip had on his daughter.  At the time, I was working at a Community Mental Health Center.  One of my adolescent clients, diagnosed with bi-polar disorer and ADHD, couldn’t stop opening and closing desk drawers, turning the lamp on and off, spinning the chair around and around.  He was frequently loud and inappropriate.  If I went for a walk with him, he immediately stopped being disruptive and was remarkably vulnerable about his hopes and his fears. I founded Chicago Adventure Therapy in order to be able to be able to work with clients like this young man, providing experiences like the weekend camping trip provided for the 6 year old girl.  With trained clinicians, we can facilitate change deliberately in the outdoors, instead of accidentally on a vacation.”
The youth we work with face a myriad of obstacles.  We work with young people experiencing homelessness; who identify as LGBTQ; who live in poverty; who experience a variety of violence; who experience prejudice everyday because of the color of their skin or their national origin; who are gang-involved; who are wards of the state; or who simply don’t have access to the resources we wish every child and young adult could access.  For many of them, it would be impossible to participate in the sports we use in our programming.
Adventure Works strives to assist at-risk youth in becoming healthy adults by providing timely intervention through adventure therapy.  A brand new non-profit, Adventure Works, an adventure therapy program serving at-risk youth ages 11-18 (6th-12th grades), provides healthy outdoor programming with activities such as hiking, climbing, or paddling. These experiences provide the youth with challenges pertaining to confidence, interpersonal relationships, team
building and problem-solving, among others, and these skills then transfer to their everyday lives.

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!

First up: Alyssa! 

Alyssa teaches our interns the ins and outs of belaying

Name: Alyssa Yokota-Lewis
Previous/Current Occupation:
 EVERYTHING.  Specifically, Climbing Instructor, REI Customer Outfitter (my name for it), Nanny, Tutor, Former Lead Educational Outreach Coordinator
Childhood Ambition: Librarian or Circus Performer
3 Words that best describe me: Passionate, Perceptive, Open
Proudest Moment(s): The moments I realize I have learned how to share.
Why CAT?: Because I believe in the therapeutic power of guided kinesthetic challenge.  And because that belief and a passion to help youth find their own inner strengths is wholeheartedly felt throughout this organization.
What have you learned so far in your internship?:  That we learn from each other as much as or more than from any independent pursuit of knowledge and experience.  And that by acknowledging and celebrating the unique qualities of each individual (leaders and youth included) we can grow stronger as a group.  No group exists without its individual parts.
What has surprised you about CAT/AT?: Given the incredible consideration, room, and access to nature it gives for an individual to grow by their own definition, I am surprised that there are not more Adventure Therapy organizations like CAT in areas where so many youth struggle to fit into their rigid and distracting urban environments.

Below, Program Coordinator Stephanie tells us about the CAT staff’s conceptualization of the Clinical Frame and how it came to exist over the course of several months. You can read the Clinical Frame by going to our About Us page, and clicking the links that correspond to each section of the Frame.

During a staff meeting, a few months ago, a discussion started on how we tell people about CAT, about what it is and what we do. Questions quickly arose such as, “What are all the components of CAT?”, “How do they relate and interact with one another?”, and “How do we talk about it in a way that makes sense to others not familiar with adventure therapy?” These questions ultimately started us on our path to the creation of CAT’s Clinical Framework. The reason for the creation of the framework quickly expanded beyond how we talk to others about it, but also included making sure we, as a staff, were all on the same page about what it is we really do and how exactly it works. It become a way for us to look at the results we desire to have compared to the actual outcomes we have seen in our program evaluation and ultimately be more intentional in our services.

At times the Framework seemed to take on a life of its own as we began to put the many, many pieces together. The pieces include the Chicago youth we work with, the environments and experiences that surround them, research on risk and protective factors of urban youth in general, clinical interventions traditionally used, the activities CAT uses (navigation, cycling, rock climbing, paddling, winter sports, and camping), research on brain development in relation to trauma, research on adventure therapy, and our own programming outcomes. One by one the staff created each component and every week we put each piece together and decided from there what else needed to be done. There were times when we realized we needed to change parts of it or that we needed to include more. We didn’t want to leave anything out and we wanted to be clear about the intricacies and complex relationships between the different components. Finally, we have completed what we like to call Phase 1 of the Clinical Framework. As both CAT and the field of adventure therapy continue to develop and evolve, so will our Clinical Framework. Until Phase 2…

“I Feel So Free”

By admin
November 11, 2011 4:30 pm

Cycling with the Night Ministry

“Zara” came to a cycling program we did not too long ago in October (2011). She was very out-going and had a lot of what I would call spunk. Before the program even started, some of the youth, “Zara” included, went to use the public restrooms near the cycling facility. When they returned, the youth and one of their staff explained to me that a security guard had stopped them from going into the women’s bathroom. Why did the security guard stop them? Because “Zara” does not quite fit into one clearly labeled slot, as far as gender goes, in our society…Because “Zara” identifies as transgender.
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Their staff reported that the youth handled themselves well, despite the frustrating situation. Later the youth stated that the bike ride and beautiful fall day helped rid the negative feelings they had surrounding the incident. Finally, during the debrief “Zara” described what she had expected the program to be like and how it felt afterwards. She initially thought people were going to say, “Oh, that’s a man” and stare at her, but in actuality no one said anything like that and no one stared. Instead of having her guard up, “Zara” said she felt safe. She said she felt free.
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It was a great moment, for us CAT staff working the program, to hear “Zara” say those words. It felt inspiring to hear from one of the youth that we are doing some of the things we so desperately strive for…providing safety, acceptance, and a new perspective.

Fun at the Chicago Shoreline Marathon

Last week I promised to tell you about two young women who weathered the same micro-burst as Michael and Jeremy who Grace introduced last week.  I get to use Kawana’s and Latrice’s real names with you, because they have spoken in public about their experiences as CAT participants.  We first met Kawana and Latrice in the summer of 2009.  Both are in college now.
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I first met them at the end of our 8-week program with the girls from the Girl World Program at Alternatives that year, when four of the girls said that they wanted to know how to volunteer with CAT.  One of them went to college at the end of the summer and wasn’t around; the other three, including Kawana and Latrice, raced with us in the Chicago Shoreline Marathon and the the Flatwater Classic in August and October, and then joined our very first leadership program in January.  We created the leadership program because of them.
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I want to tell you about the Chicago Shoreline Marathon.  It’s an international race.  The girls talked with the winner from South Africa in 2009 (he told them to keep training…), with an Olympic kayaker who had driven a trailer of boats from San Francisco, and with the only woman in the heat of elite racers (who encouraged them to keep paddling); in 2010 they got their picture taken with the 1st and 2nd place winners who had last raced each other in Australia (a group of CAT volunteers are in that picture too). The race has three lengths – a 26 mile marathon length, an 8 mile beach-to-beach length, and a relay race just off shore.
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In 2009, conditions were rough.  When we arrived in the morning, I had a serious talk with the girls about coniditions.  Race organizers were considering cancelling the relay.  I was consdiering cancelling our participation in the relay even if the race organizers didn’t cancel it.
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The race didn’t cancel, I didn’t cancel, and the girls decided to go for it.  With my heart in my throat and already questioning my own judgment, I watched them launch into conditions they’d never paddled in before, each with a staff member at their side.  I gave Christine and Emily instructions about shortening the route, and last-minute rescue instructions despite the fact that they’d been teaching rescues all summer.
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Kawana capsized.  Latrice capsized twice.  On her second capsize, Latrice had a hard time getting back in the boat.  On the paddle back, Latrice was scared, quiet, and not very good at listening.  Emily struggled to help her calm down.  When Latrice got back and I congratulated her, she didn’t think there was reason for congratulations and didn’t fully believe me that she’d done a good job.  I told Latrice about the times I’d gotten knocked over  – that those were also the times when I learned the most and that my paddling improved the most.  I sent her a picture of me upside down in my boat.  I was worried we’d put her in a situation that was too stressful; that this was no longer going to be fun for her.
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We periodically have these conversations with our youth – conversations about NOT meeting our goals, about being disappointed in our performance, about feeling like a failure.  We love the times when our youth are successful beyond their wildest dreams. We like being cherr-leaders for them.  And we’re REALLY good at it.
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But I think perhaps they learn the most when they don’t do as well as they’d like.  Because one of the hardest things we learn to do is to deal positively with faliure.  To learn to scale back our goals.  To learn to be happy with doing our very best. 

2009 Relay Club Team First Place!

We stayed at the beach and had lunch, and left around noon.  We didn’t stay for the awards ceremony later in the afternoon. We didn’t learn until 2010 that they had taken first place in the Club Team category in 2009. 
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In 2010 both girls showed up to the Shoreline wearing their Shoreline T-shirts from the year before and the CAT baseball caps they got at the camping trip with “Micheal” and “Jeremy” where, as we like to talk about it among ourselves, they “survived the hurricane.”
We miss both girls this year.  We’re so proud of both of them to be starting their college careers.  And I’ve told both of them that if they come back to Chicago after they’re done with college, I would be honored if they would consider sitting on our Board of Directors.
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I’d like to leave you with something Latrice said this past summer.  Both of them spoke at our research presentation in August.  We asked them to answer a few specific questions – and we also told them that if there’s anything else about CAT they think people should know, to include that.  Latrice seemd a little nervous – but told us all that the thing she most appreciated about CAT was that we reach out and offer programming for “kids who wouldn’t normally be able to do stuff like that.” 
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I was so pleased that Latrice recognized the issue of access.  That social justice aspect of what we do is important to us.  I hope that if Latrice returns to Chicago after college, she’ll help us continue to offer programming in a way that rights some of the inequalities and injustices in this city.
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In the mean time, we so enjoyed having Latrice and Kawana with us for three seasons; and we’re so proud of both of them we hardly know what to do with ourselves!
This week Grace introduces us to two young men who helped introduce her to CAT.  Grace was a Social Work intern with CAT in the summer of 2010.  She completed work study hours with us throught the next school year, and then we hired her on.  We’re very glad to have her with us.
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If you, like me, find yourself inspired by the stories of these two young men and the other youth we’ve introduced in October, I hope you will take a moment to make a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy.  We work with some of the most at-risk youth in the City.  Most of our partner agencies are working with very limited budgets.  We offer programming on a sliding scale – agencies pay what they can afford.  We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons.  We work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic cost for them.
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We started programming in 2008, when the economy crashed.  We’ve had to be a resilient organization in order to stay in business and provide services for youth most in need in Chicago.  You have made that possible – last year 61% of our revenue came from individuals like you.  Donations of less than $100 are our mainstay; larger donations go a long way to support our programming and are highly appreciated. Soon we’ll be sharing with you some new CAT projects that will make each dollar you donate make even more possible for the young people we serve.

Hiking at Devil's Lake

Grace writes:
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I met Michael and Jeremy* for the first time on a sunny morning in early summer 2010. As a new intern, I was a little nervous for the adventure ahead: a 2 night camping trip to Devil’s Lake with 5 youth, all of whom had more experience in adventure therapy than I did! The trip was the capstone experience for a year long leadership program in which the participating youth learn the more in- depth skills of each of the sports CAT offers, as well as the leadership tools one would need to lead a group through a CAT program.
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Michael and Jeremy were a funny pair. Brothers about 4 years apart, they were great friends, I could tell right away. From the first moment of stepping into the van, they were laughing and whispering to each other. Throughout the weekend, they proved themselves to be very respectful, helpful, and fun group members, very committed to their fellow participants.
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On the first evening, before we went out on the lake for a kayaking session, Andrea laid out her expectations of the group. Each youth was to be intentional about their role in the group; they should do their best to help the group reach its goals, even if those goals were as simple as putting the dishes away, or going to find water. If a youth didn’t know how to help, they should ask. Simple enough.

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

Last week I promised to tell you about “Monica” (not her real name), a young woman who has participated in many of our programs with The Night Minstry over the last 2 summers and the winter in between. “Monica” has a pretty smile that has thousands of unspoken words behind it.  Her smile isn’t happy per se.  It’s a little crooked.  It’s not big.  Her smile looks a little bit inward, somehow.  But when she smiles, it speaks volumes.  It seems to say that she knows she’s safe for a moment.  It seems to speak of fleeting contentment.  She looks not like she trusts you, but like she’s considering offering her trust. This isn’t a simple story; and it’s not entirely a “feel-good” story.  “Monica” is tight-lipped about her life, but it’s clear she’s weathered a lot.  It’s also clear she hasn’t come out the other side unscathed.  Her scars show – literally.

 

I first met “Monica” at the Night Minstry Youth Outreach bus – I told you last week about meeting “Bob” there.  “Monica” was much less outgoing than “Bob.”  She interacted with me, but said very little.  Her style of interaction was confusing and very reserved.  She seemed shy and uncomfortable – uncomfortable with me and uncomfortable with herself. I was surprised when she showed up for the climbing program the next day.  I wasn’t surprised when she said that she probably wasn’y going to climb.  We all told her that was fine – that we wouldn’t force her to do anything she didn’t want to do; and that we thought she might like it and she could change her mind and join in if she wanted to.

 

Truly, I don’t remember if she climbed that day.  I think she did.  Over the next year we got used to her pattern – she would tell us she wasn’t going to participate, she was just “going to watch” – and then she’d be on the wall, on the water, or on a bike. That first day climbing we noticed that she had cuts on her arms. She seemed ambivalent about offering us her trust – and that was beginning to make a lot of sense.
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The next month, she said something at the end of a navigation program at North Park Village Nature Center that set off some emotion and drama in the group.  As we sat down at the picnic tables to debrief the program, she looked around and said “all the crackers are together.”  She said it under her breath – but I think she meant for us to hear it.  As it turned out, I was one of only two people who heard her comment.  I was stunned to hear her say it.  In my utter surprise, I responded without thinking – and was appalled at how I responded.  Because what I said was, “No, there are two more over there.”  Plain truth about where the white people in the group were sitting – that she had missed the two sitting behind her.  And not responding in the least to the offensive language she used; to the undercurrent of mistrust, suspicion and challenge; or to the fact that she put it out there without being direct or honest about putting it out there… Or, very simply, to the issue of racial prejudice as it plays out in our lives.

 

The other person who heard “Monica’s” comment got quite angry and responded in that emotion.  EVERYONE heard him, and the group was on a dramatic roll.

 

So – I was appalled at what was going down; Christine was thrown off her game trying to debrief the program; and emotions were running high.  For a little while we got back on track with the planned debrief.  But when we’d all settled down a little, Christine and I had a very brief conversation, and brought the group discussion back to the topic of race. In the course of the conversation, “Monica” asked me directly, “Are you uncomfortable with certain people?”  I wanted to say “no.” How could I possibly stand there and say “yes?” But direct questions of how we experience race are more complicated than that.  “Monica” asked me a direct question, and I knew she ‘d know if I was anything less than 100% honest. I asked her if she was asking me if I was uncomfortable with black people. She said yes.

 

I stammered for a little while, and then told her that yes, sometimes I am.  I said that I don’t think black people are less than me in any way – but that yes, sometimes I’m uncomfortable.  That sometimes I worry I’m going to say something stupid or offensive without knowing it.  That there are some words that black people can use with each other that I can’t  – shouldn’t and never will! – use.  And that when black people call each other those names in my presence, even in jest, I get uncomfortable.  I said that I was uncomfortable with the fact that our staff was mostly white, and the group wasn’t.  I said that I have the best staff in the world – and that it felt offensive to the group to have such a dis-connect between the racial make-up of our staff and the racial make-up of the group.

 

I tried to be as honest and as clear as I could be.  I didn’t like it one little bit.  And it was no fun doing it with an audience.
What ensued was an open and honest conversation about the role race plays in our daily interactions.

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As the group left, “Monica” looked back at me.  She made eye contact and held it until the group was out of sight. I wish I could say that I knew what was happening as she held eye contact with me, but I didn’t.  I was pretty sure she was taking my measure – and I didn’t know if I measured up.

Climbing at Lincoln Park Athletic Club

“Monica” came to the kayaking program the next month.  She smiled when she saw us – and seemed pleased that we remembered her.  She told us again that she probably wasn’t going to participate; that she was “just going to watch.”  We told her again that we wouldn’t force her to do anything she didn’t want to. She had a great time on the water that day.  Pictures of her that day show her smiling her smile that has so much behind it.  It was the first time I felt like she’d decided to offer a bit of her trust.  I took that as a precious gift.

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In the year following these programs, “Monica” has continued to participate in almost every program we’ve run with The Night Ministry.  She has continued to indirectly bring up race, and waited to see how we responded.  We’ve tried to respond directly each time. She has continued to be tight-lipped. But she has also continued to smile. She has continued to smile in that way that seems to say that she is considering offering us her trust.

 

And while she has remained tight-lipped, she has also started to talk with our staff just a little bit.  She told Stephanie that she felt like hurting herself.  She did it with her talent for saying something in a way that puts us on the spot and can feel just a little bit manipulative – saying it just as the group was leaving.  Stephanie made a quick safety plan with “Monica”; told her she was going to talk with The Night Ministry staff; and made a follow-up plan with The Night Ministry staff.

 

Like me, Stephanie had to be honest and appropriate in an uncomforatable situation.  “Monica” offered enough trust to tell Stephanie that she sometimes hurt herself – but would Stephanie respond in a way worthy of trust by taking appropriate action and side-stepping drama?; or would she lose “Monica’s” trust again by agreeing not to tell anyone or by being scared and glossing over what “Monica” said, and in the process not taking “Monica’s” safety seriously?

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This past June, one month after that first climbing program, “Monica” climbed with us again at the same wall.  We noted out loud that she had NOT told us she probably wasn’t going to climb; that she had NOT told us she was probably “just going to watch.”  We also noted that she looked much more comfortable on the wall.  That she looked more comfortable in her body as she climbed, and that she climbed with more confidence and finesse as she climbed higher than she ever had.
“Monica” said very little.  –But she smiled.
I take her offer of trust as something precious.

Montrose Beach

This week we’re continuing our introductions to some of the youth we’ve worked with over the last 5 years. The story I want to tell you today spans all five of those years.  It’s a story that starts with our pilot program in 2007.  We learned a lot in that program – including lots of things to do differently.  Our programming has grown exponentially since then, and looks a lot different.  (If you missed our Summer Reflections, take a look.)  But it all goes back to this (very) small program with a few youth from Center on Halsted in the summer of 2007.
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We didn’t plan for this to be a pilot.  This was going to be our first program – 5 youth planned to join us for 2 hours of paddling each week for four weeks.
I first met the group at Center on Halsted the week before for an orientation.  Little did I know that it was also an audition of sorts for me!  One of the young men introduced himself as “Bob,” and then said that people usually called her Aunt “Mary.”  Another young man, “Joe,” asked if it was OK if he wore a skirt to paddle.  I grew up in the gay and lesbian community in the 80’s, and had known several transgender people – so I asked “Bob” if I should call him “Bob” or if she preferred that I call her “Mary,”  and I told “Joe” that in general I didn’t personally find skirts to be practical paddling clothing, but that the more important consideration was to avoid wearing cotton.
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I think I passed the gender-bending audition.  Still, only two young youth showed up at Montrose Beach the next week.
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It was a sweet day.  At the orientation “Joe” bragged that he was going to paddle for miles, leaving us all in the dust.  When he got on the water, he was far more timid.  When he realized he was in water over his head, unable to steer until that point, he did a full 180, heading back to the shore exclaiming “I DON’T WANT TO BE DROWNDED!”
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He was adamant that if he went out deeper than his head he would drown, and the life vest wouldn’t help in the least.  So “Bob” and I each took one of “Joe’s” hands and had him lay back in shallow water to feel the effect of the life vest.  After several tries, “Joe” was able to float.  Now his exclamation was “I’M DOING IT!”
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Neither of the young men returned the next week, and despite the sweetnes of that day, we called it a pilot program, wrote off the season as a bust, licked our wounds, changed our approach based on what we’d learned, and moved forward.

Belaying

So imagine my surprise three years later when, in the June of 2010 we started programming with The Night Ministry, and I show up with a kayak and climbing gear at a bank parking lot with 200 youth hanging out at 10:00 at night to meet the outreach van and provide an orientation before we start programming – and practically run into “Bob!”  “Bob” was now on the youth council at The Night Ministry, and his area of responsibility was with the adventure club.  I was more surprised when I realized he remembered me – and downright speechless when he described, in detail and with amazing enthusiasm, the wet exit I’d made him do before kayaking with a spray skirt.  He corralled 10 youth, the maximum we’d set, to climb with us the next day.
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We’ve paddled, climbed, cycled and navigated with “Bob” and his peers for a year and a half now.  We’ve watched “Bob” cheer and teach and motivate and support his peers.
We’ve watched him be a leader, helping other young people to find their strength.
I’d like to tell you about one of them next week – a young woman who we’ve watched as her physical comfort with herself has transformed and deepened over that year and a half.
We finished our fourth program season this summer.  For me, it seems like just yesterday that we were starting up.  We’ve learned a lot of systems; we’ve met so many youth (700 and counting) and the adults who work with them; we’ve had the great pleasure of developing partnerships with diverse youth-serving agencies and outdoor companies (over 20 organizations); we’ve gotten better at what we do…  The list could go on.  And we’re excited about it – I’d love to tell you everything! (If you missed our Summer Reflections, take a look.)
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But what sticks out is the youth we’ve worked with.  Each is different. Each takes something different from our programs.  We’re inspired by each.
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So rather than tell you all about what we’ve done as an organization, I want to take the next three months to tell you about 12 youth we’ve worked with. I can’t tell you their real names.  I can include pictures of some; for others we don’t have photo releases, so there are some pretty amazing photos I can’t share with you.
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If you, like me, find yourself inspired by their stories, I hope you will take a moment to make a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy.  We work with some of the most at-risk youth in the City.  Most of our partner agencies are working with very limited budgets.  We offer programming on a sliding scale – agenies pay what they can afford.  We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons.  We work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic cost for them.
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We started programming in 2008, when the economy crashed.  Many foundations took a hit when the economy crashed, so they have to be more conservative in their grant-making.  We’ve had to be a resilient organization in order to stay in business and provide expensive services for youth most in need in Chicago.  You all have made that possible – last year 61% of our revenue came from individuals like you.  Donations of less than $100 are our mainstay; larger donations go a long way to support our programming.
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Please take a moment to read about a young man who participated in our very first rock-climbing program in 2009.  And then take a moment to make a donation.  Whatever amount you can afford will make a difference for other Chicago youth like this young man.
What a view from the climbing wall!
“Frank” was a student at Lakeview Alternative High School when he participated in our very first climbing program in the spring of 2009.  If a young person is attending an alternative high school, it means that they were kicked out of at least one school.  It usually means that a number of adults have given up on them.  It’s often a bit of a “last chance.”
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This program was 5 weeks long.  The first week, “Frank” said that his goal was to “get to the top.”  But he couldn’t get past the crux of his rope.  He was frustrated and disappointed – but said at the end of the first day that his new goal was to get to the top of EVERY rope.  (I was worried about this – one of the hardest things we do is to help youth deal with it when they DON’t reach their goals.  It’s exciting and fun when they do.  But sometimes in our lives we don’t.  We do our youth a great service if we can help them cope with that.  If we can help them set new, more modest goals; or help them set intermediate goals; or help them create a realistic plan to reach that goal they really want.  I was worried this wasn’t going to go well…)
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The next week he got stuck again, in the same place.  He told his belayer, one of CAT’s first staff members, that he was scared.  He understood that the rope and his belayer would catch him if he fell – but he was afraid to fall nonetheless.  He explained that he was scared to reach for the hold he knew he needed because he was scared that reaching for it would make him fall.
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“Frank” and his belayer decided he would practice falling.  He went partway up, warned his belayer that he was going to fall, and fell into the safety of a good belay.  Then he started falling without warning his belayer – and still fell into a safe belay.  He got back on the rope where he had stalled, got to the same place that had stopped him several times, stretched to reach the hold he needed – and made it to the top. 
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At the end of the 5 weeks, “Frank” had made it to the top of all 6 ropes.  He also belayed his Principal while she tried the first rope “Frank” had tried to climb (and got stuck in the same place he got stuck).
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That last day, his principal talked to me.  She said that at the school they’d seen a remarkable transformation in “Frank.”  She told me that he had a strong interest in film, and wanted an internship. They’d never seen him work to get something he wanted or take a risk.  But after he started climbing with us, he took the risk of applying for the internship despite discouragement from some people close to him – and he worked very hard to get it.  She attributed the change in his behavior and his sense of what was possible to the climbing.  I like to think that with the embodied knowledge that there was someone there to catch him if he fell, he was able to take a risk and stretch himself. 
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When I spoke with “Frank” the next fall to invite him to participate in our leadership program, he had finished the internship, and had gotten a job with the same organization.  He had one year left of high school, and was confident about a career in film.
I hope to see a film by him one of these days.

We’ve had a busy summer. We have more, but it’s drawing to a close. As we get just a bit less busy, I find myself contemplating the summer. The range of emotions I’ve felt working with our youth has been as wide as the Grand Canyon. The program that brought me to tears the most frequently was the gang prevention program we work with in Little Village.
Yes – I admit it – the guys brought me to tears, and more than once.

I cried when I got the email from our contact there saying he needed to cancel a program because they were holding a funeral for one of the youth that day. The young man was shot and killed.

I cried when one of the guys showed up with bruises all over his face because he’d been “beat out.” He’d made a decision to leave the gang – which meant that he had to show up for a scheduled appointment to be beat up by the people who’d been his closest friends for years. I cried because I was so proud of him. I cried because no kid – no person – should have to be beat up by their closest friends in order to live a life that isn’t bound by violence. I cried because I can’t imagine having the strength to change the course of my life like that, in opposition to my peers, when I was 16 years old. I cried because when it came down to it, I didn’t know what to make of it, or, really, just how to feel. I cried that we live in such a world. I cried that our youth live in such a world. I cried for the hope of changing the world for these guys.

I cried when we went camping with this group, too – when they started talking about beauty at the end of the trip. I was stunned when someone said that our evening paddle on the trip was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. I cried because I often forget the beauty at Devil’s Lake – I’ve been incredibly lucky to go to many places I consider more beautiful. So it brought me up short to realize the lack of beauty in these guys’ lives. And it made me cry because of the impact that beauty can have on a person. These are tough guys – their peer who was killed earlier in the summer was much like them. They’re all familiar with violence. But there was such softness in their faces when, just for a moment, they talked about beauty.

I almost cry, if it weren’t for the absurdity, when I think about how scared these guys are of the activities we do – especially the climbing and kayaking. But that they’re not scared to pack a gun. That they have a hard time trusting the safety of a belay system or a life jacket; but they don’t understand that much of the activity in their daily lives is more dangerous. You can imagine we talked a lot about safety and risk management with them.

I laughed so hard I cried – and nearly peed my pants! – when we did a Harbor cleanup with them. At the very end, one of the land-based crews spotted money floating all over the water, and sitting on the bottom as well! So – probably not my best moment – but with their suggestion, prompting, laughter and disbelief – I dove for the money. Yes, I dove for singles with the serial numbers cut out. I came up with fistfuls of money, to their disbelief not that I would dive for money, but that I would get into that water. And, despite their disbelief, to directions about where next to dive! The intensity of their directions was hilarious! We called the police, made a report, and turned over the money – because it was the right thing to do, and bills with serial numbers cut out are a little sketchy, to say the least! (I was impressed with how they handled themselves around the cops, too.) The spontaneity, shared laughter, engagement and absurdity that we all shared was one of the greatest moments of my summer. A summer that started with us not knowing if these guys would ever open up to us in the least; or if we’d be able to forge the slightest connection with them.

Thank you for making so much possible!
Thanks you for changing lives.

My thanks, too, to our many partners, especially The Northwest Passage, Lincoln Park and Lakeview Athletic Clubs, Bike Chicago, and Alliance for the Great Lakes

Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Founder and Director

Consulting the compass

Cooling down in the fountain @ Jackson Harbor

Cleaning up Jackson Harbor

Devil's Lake