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Posts Tagged ‘Under-served youth’

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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“Travel is fatal to bigotry.”

I bet we all have a half dozen or more inspiring – and true – quotes about travel.

When I was just out of college, working a stipend volunteer job and living in community with others in the same program, there was one person in our apartment who was NOT straight out of college.  She had just completed two years in the Peace Corps, living overseas.  In the year we lived together, I was continually struck by how much broader her understanding of the world was than the rest of ours.

Travel changes us.  It challenges us.  It makes us grow.

It’s a formative experience for youth and young adults.  Its impact on them – on us – stays with us throughout our lives.

So we’re beyond pleased to be planning two different international CAT trips this year.

But travel, as we know, can also be stressful.  The details can be challenging.

When we travel with CAT, we come across details that stop us in our tracks.  The challenges to travel that our young people encounter are mind-boggling to me.

One young man flew with no photo ID.  He went to the airport with us in the full knowledge that he might not be able to fly.  (For those who are wondering – he was a legal adult.)  This young man was homeless, and like many homeless people, the ID he’d worked hard to acquire got lost.  He had two State IDs (we didn’t ask how that happened…)  One was lost when his bag was stolen, and the other was lost when the bag that it was in, that he’d stored for safe keeping at the place of a friend who had an apartment through a housing program, was lent out to someone else, its contents emptied and subsequently lost.  This young man discovered that both IDs were missing the day before we were flying – so we looked up what to do if you don’t  have photo ID, and he went to the airport equipped with his birth certificate, his social security card, and his high school diploma.  He had to go through additional security, but he joined us on our trip.

Anther young man planned to join us on an international trip, so we helped him get a passport.  We sent in all the required documents, including State ID and birth certificate.  His application was denied – on the grounds that his State ID was issued too recently.    — Yes, you read that right – his ID was issued too recently.  It gets more bizarre – they told us that he needed to present five valid forms of ID, all at least five years old.  It did cross my mind that in the State of Illinois, a Drivers License wouldn’t work as one of these forms of ID, because they expire in four years…   We scrambled, and got it figured out, and this young man came on the trip.

Twice we’ve had young people whose tickets we’ve bought – and then they got work that didn’t allow them to come on the trip.  One young man was offered a job on the spot at a job fair.  The job was retail, and the orientation was the next week, in the middle of our trip.  They wouldn’t let him attend a different orientation – if he couldn’t make that one, he didn’t have the job.  I’ve applied for jobs, with limited vacation time that didn’t accrue until Id’ been there a while, with vacation already on my schedule.  In the middle class and white collar world, you tell your potential employer about the trip, and it’s usually not a problem.  You might have to take unpaid time – but it doesn’t preclude employment.  Sadly, this young man was not able to go on the trip he’d spent five months helping to plan, learning about navigation, tides, currents and trip planning in order to do it.

Perhaps the most perplexing obstacle was when we had a young person whose date of birth is unknown.  It’s true – we have three different years of birth for her.   This young person was 17 years old when we met her.  When we celebrated her birthday 7 months later, she was turning 17 years old.  We asked her for her date of birth and made ticket reservations with that information, only to discover that the date of birth on her ID doesn’t match EITHER of the ages she gave us…  And our reservation was made with a date of birth that WASN’T the one on her ID…

Traveling with a transgender young person also presents challenges.  We had to make sure we knew their names and gender on their ID, neither of which match the person we know.  We had to publicly and officially mis-gender them in order for them to be able to travel.  And we have to be prepared to advocate for them at the airport – there’s documented evidence of a trend of harassment towards transgender people at airport security.

Every time we plan a trip, we’re caught up short by challenges that our young people encounter.  Still, travel is valuable enough that we put in the work to figure it out.  And we almost always do.

In the midst of a very cold winter in Chicago, we just completed what might be my most favorite CAT program in our six years of programming.

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We met Fred and Greg* in July in the Gitchi Gumee Project – a group of 20 who went to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium in July.  They came to us from The Night Ministry, one of our partner organizations that works with street-based youth.  They’ve both faced tremendous challenges and obstacles.  But here’s the thing – one of the things that gets my hackles up, and can set off a very LONG stint on my personal soap box, is when we, as well-meaning adults with privilege, see our youth first through the lens of the obstacles they face.  Being in a program can pigeonhole how other people see them – they’re “Homeless” first; they’re “Gang-Bangers;” children of immigrants, they’re “Illegal;” they’re “Bipolar” or “ADHD” or HIV-Postive.”       [* Fred and Greg have given their permission to use their real names]

In San Fransisco last week, at the Golden Gate Sea Kayak Symposium, things went down differently.  A few of my fellow coaches were jealous of me because I get to call these two guys my students.

  • They were jealous because Fred and Greg have some of the GREATEST attitudes in the world!  They both capsized – well, they capsized more than most of the students – and they both just jumped right back in the boats, even more energized and motivated than before they dumped.
  • With backgrounds in gymnastics and dance, coupled with great fitness levels and a lot of physical strength, Fred and Greg have more natural ability than most paddling students we as coaches come across.  This fact was not lost on my fellow coaches.
  • They both have an uncanny ability to take direction.  With that huge natural talent they have, matched by a huge desire to learn more, they soak up every last suggestion, tip and challenge.  They’re eminently “coachable.”

This is what strengths-based youth development is about.  It’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.

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When I had the great good fortune to spend a month paddling on the West Coast a year ago, it changed me.  It also changed the way I think about CAT programming. Taking our young peoples’ strengths seriously means that we have to challenge them.  We have to give them the type of challenge that they can meet –  but not ace 100%.  Challenge that demands the very best of what they have to bring to it, and leaves them with so much still to work on.  For some of our young people, this means climbing to the top of the climbing wall in the gym, or climbing half-way up, or one body length up the wall.  For some, it means sleeping in a tent.  For some, it means paddling “out the Gate” in San Fransisco Bay, learning to peel out and eddy in at Yellow Bluff (a tide race that “goes off” on the ebb tide in the Bay), or getting worked in a rock gardening class or in waves that they eventually learn to surf…  It means preparing to teach and lead other young people.

It means challenging them to share what they’ve gained with others.  Fred and Greg are grateful for the experience.  Truly, it breaks my heart just a little bit how often I hear them say “thank you for believing in us.”  Or “I can’t believe we got to do this.”  Or “thank you for giving us these opportunities.  We would never get to do this.”

If it stops at gratitude, they are still those young men who face such great obstacles.  “At-risk kids” who don’t have access to the resources that so many kids do.

If they are deeply grateful for the experience, and use it to bring their very best to bear on the world – then they are young men with amazing strength and amazing skills that will change the world.  They are not “disadvantaged youth.”  Rather, they are powerful agents of change; a force for good that we ignore at our own, and the world’s, peril.

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After my own time paddling on the West Coast, I look at CAT programming with an eye towards how it will empower our young people to change the world.  What can we give them; and also, what will they give back.  They will do so much more for this world than ever I will.  To do it they have to know that they are not “at-risk kids,” but amazing young adults with so much to offer the world.

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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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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.
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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!
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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.

We’ve introduced you to Jennifer and Alyssa, now meet a third CAT summer intern! Our interns have been with us for a month now, and have already made their mark on our organization. We are so thankful for their work and dedication, and are excited to introduce you to them!

Next up: Anne!

Only some of the material on our Reading List for Interns!

Name: Anne Carter

Previous/Current Occupation: My background is in education. I’ve taught students from 2nd grade through adult classes. I have also worked at day camps, residential and therapeutic camps in New England.

Childhood Ambition: Ballerina!

3 Words that best describe you: Patient, Lighthearted, Receptive.

Proudest Moment: At the end of a GED course that I taught at a correctional institution, one of my most difficult students said he wanted to continue his education after he got transferred. Inspiring a drive to learn was unbelievable.

Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I’ve seen the impact of adventure activities on individuals labeled with behavioral problems in my previous work and I truly believe in the power of trying new things as an instrument of growth. These types of activities are not as readily available in an urban environment and I believe this avenue for change should be accessible for all. I am excited to have the opportunity to be a part of bringing this unique experience to Chicago’s youth.

What have you learned so far in your internship? This type of work puts participants in the “driver’s seat” because they are involved in the process of the activity and responsible for the outcome.  Learning through natural consequences and group dynamics can be the most powerful experiences.

What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy?  There’s a larger body of research than I expected regarding adventure therapy and brain structure.  As research continues to unfold I look forward to further acceptance of the field of adventure therapy as one that develops stronger mental health through awareness, self-confidence and contemplation.

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

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.
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.