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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness Therapy’

“We got our Three’s!”

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Scotland Squad

Just over a month ago, a small CAT group went to Scotland.  Three members returned as the newest British Canoeing 3 star sea paddlers, and I returned as the second American to earn the UKCC Level 3 Coaching Award.  Each of us is part of a pretty remarkable community of paddlers that trained with us and supported us and sent us off with their hearts and their hopes.

The words that often define and confine members of this community are varied and diverse.  Many are words not often seen in print about athletes or paddlers.  Some are words that more often preclude people from paddling or traveling.

Our words?  Homeless.  Teacher.  Ward of the State.  Hospice Employee.  Transgender.  Artist.  Suicidal.  Business Owner.  Abused.  Dancer.  High School Drop-Out.  Social Worker.  Teen Mom.  Actor.  Felon.  Musician.  HIV+.  Librarian.  Eating Disorder.  Outdoor Educator.  Gang Involved.  Grant Administrator.  Refugee.  Public Defender.  Anger Issues.  We range in age from a sophomore in HS to retired (and one community member’s 1 year old son).  Our experience levels range from first time in a boat to ACA L5 instructor.  We are Black, White, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern.  We are single, married (“gay married” and “straight married”), living with partners, divorced, and we have restraining orders against former partners.

 We have become a community. 

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We’re not perfect.  We hurt each other’s feelings.    We’re sometimes rude or mean to each other.  Not everyone likes each other.   Still, we’re a community.  We’ve had each other’s backs on the water and off.  We’ve called each other out when some members are left out of the “in.” We’ve apologized to each other when we too have been hurt.  Adult members of the group have come to symposia they usually wouldn’t have because a group of CAT young people would be there, and they’ve ditched the classes they paid for in order to spend the day with our community. They’ve traveled across the country to paddle venues they’ve had the opportunity to paddle before and haven’t, because THIS is the group they wanted to paddle with.  Our community crosses barriers that often divide us.  In the process, it changes the lives of people on both sides of those barriers.

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For my Coach Level 3 assessment, I needed to take two long term students with me – students I’d been coaching for at least a year.  For three years, my goal was to take CAT participants.  I thought it was probably impossible.  I was inspired by two young men.  They participated in the Gitchi Gumme Project in 2013.  They told me that they wanted to “learn everything we can about this sport.”  Coaching them and two volunteers at Montrose Beach that August was the precursor to this community that we’ve developed.  They went to the Golden Gate Symposium the next January.  One of them was in Scotland with me a month ago.

I was worried about taking CAT participants.  This was the first time that a trip would be as much or more about me as it was about them. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  Many of my colleagues would say I was getting ready to cross a line that a Social Worker should never cross.

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When I had the opportunity to take those two young men to the Golden Gate Symposium, it reminded me that in youth development work, it’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck.  It reminded me that we have a responsibility to provide young people with opportunities for challenge that don’t come with a guarantee of success.  I worried about the possibility that I was crossing boundaries held sacred in Social Work practice; and I trusted in my belief that the young people we work with deserve every opportunity for mastery that we can offer them.  If we don’t offer those opportunities, even for sound professional reasons, we are treating young people as “disadvantaged youth,” not paddlers or leaders.

I made the decision to invite three young people, so that if anyone ended up having to cancel at the last minute I would still have two students.  I asked an adult member of the community to come along to help manage the group.  Our documentarian came along as well – the documentary “Paddling in Spite of the Ordinary” about CAT will end with the Level 3 assessment.

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The L3 portfolio requires profiles of both “official” students and an annual plan that outlines the coaching plan for these two students for the year, with 12 session plans that are part of that annual plan.

From a coaching perspective, we often build student profiles based on 4 related parts of paddling – the technical, tactical, psychological and physiological.  Do students know a skill? Do they know when or in what circumstances to effectively employ a skill?  How does their level of excitement or anxiety (or lack of either) impact their ability to choose or perform a skill?  Do they have the physiological ability to perform a skill in the conditions in which they want to perform it?  The TTPP profiles for CAT students often look different than what paddlesport coaches expect.  A few people in our community have these brief TTPP profiles:

  • ttpP – living in a shelter that serves cereal for breakfast, lactose intolerant – dinner often the only meal on any given day
  • TtPp – trauma – swing from dis-engaged (bored, sleeping) to over-stimulated (scared, belligerent) quickly – narrow Learning Zone; student unable to take direction in dynamic conditions, angrily shouts “No!” — challenging to keep student safe
  • ttPP – Hx of abuse, often dissociates – not fully embodied, challenging to teach a physical skill to someone who is not in their body; expect this student has some level of dyspraxia as a result of trauma
  • Ttpp – gets tired/bored practicing technical skills – need to keep it interesting; *create reason for needing technical skill,  *be able to teach technical skills in the flat water that we often have and ability to transfer skill to dynamic water
  • ttPP – strangled by significant other, gasket of dry top causes intense anxiety

My Annual Plan for my two “official” students is tied up in the annual plan for the whole community. We had a Surf Day last fall, lots of time in the pool over the winter.  We had a retreat in early May, a camping trip on the Mississippi River in mid-May, several 2 star assessments mid to late May and while we were in Scotland another group was camping and paddling in the Apostle Islands.  Twelve people did their Coach 1 and FSRT in June.  Community members went to symposia as students and as coaches.

Our learning and paddling together as a community doesn’t translate easily into a linear plan for two students.  But over three years we paddled and learned together, we built community, and I put it all together in my portfolio.  Last month, we went to Scotland.

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I’m really proud that we all passed.  I’m even more proud of our community.  We’re a more diverse, younger community than most in the paddling world – especially in the “serious” paddling world as opposed to a “program” for “urban” or “at risk” youth.

There’s lots of discourse about how to bring young people and people of color into our sport.  We’ve done it.  We’ve done it with young people who have some of the fewest resources at their disposal.  We’ve done it by believing that the words that so often define and confine us are not the only words that describe us, and that they do not have the power to proscribe what is possible.  We wrote a new script, and we did it together.  Some of us may be homeless.  We’ve considered suicide.  We’re high school drop outs, wards of the state, teen moms.  We’re musicians, business owners, social workers and outdoor educators.

We have another set of words. Paddler.  Coach. Leader.  Learner.  Community Member.

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Summer Internships

By Laura Statesir
February 23, 2016 10:09 am

Update: Applications for our summer internship program are closed for 2016. Please check back with us in early 2017 for next summer.

CAT is looking for a few dedicated individuals who would like to spend their summer working with us! Keep reading if you are interested…Kaleidoscope

Organization Description:

Using adventure sports like kayaking, camping, cycling, and climbing, Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) helps under-served youth in Chicago have a lasting positive impact on their communities and become healthy adults by teaching effective social skills, increasing participants’ sense of possibility, and fostering a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility.

Intern Job Description:

Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) seeks an intern to assist with summer programming using urban-based adventure therapy with under-served and marginalized youth. This unpaid internship is open to students who need an internship, field placement or practicum in order to fulfill the requirements for their degree. Interested and qualified students who cannot meet the above requirement can also structure it as an Independent Study for which they receive credit.

Responsibilities:

  • Assist with the overall planning, implementation and follow up of single day and summer-long programming
  • Work alongside program staff to facilitate adventure therapy groups
  • Co-lead cycling, climbing, camping and/or kayaking activities
  • Help develop targeted one-on-one and group clinical interventions with a range of underserved and marginalized youth
  • Organize paperwork for programs including waivers and medical forms
  • Assist with program logistics such as equipment, meals, and transportation
  • Participate in weekly staff meetings and additional trainings

Requirements:

  • Able to commit at least 20 hours/week from June – August
  • Able to co-lead cycling, climbing, camping and kayaking programs
  • Interest in clinical psychotherapy and/or youth development
  • Curiosity about the experiences of under-served and marginalized youth and practices to best serve these populations
  • Dedication to social justice and anti-oppressive practice
  • Ability to work independently, collaboratively, and flexibly
  • Experience working with under-served and/or marginalized youth is preferred
  • Experience in outdoor, adventure, or experiential education; social work or community-based youth programming strongly preferred
  • Ability to work outdoors in harsh weather, lift 20 – 50 lbs, and work a non-standard schedule

Benefits:

  • Students in a clinical field of study will receive clinical supervision from an LCSW. Please check with your institution about required supervision and/or required credentials of field supervisor.
  • Experience using adventure therapy with under-served youth populations
  • Work alongside and learn from other fun loving, passionate, and dedicated adventure therapy professionals

To apply:

KaleidoscopeIf you are interested in applying, please submit a cover letter and resume to Andrea Knepper at info@chicagoadventuretherapy.org.

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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.

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

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

What Laura has to say about her new job:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love,

Laura

 

A Quick Note:

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

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

Gitchi Gumee 2014

Do you remember your first camping trip?  Roasting marshmallows around the campfire; watching shooting stars at night; being terrified of the creature outside your tent at night that must certainly have been a bear, and a REALLY big one – only to realize it was a raccoon.  … or a chipmunk.  Swimming in mountain lakes, skipping stones on any body of water you could find, climbing rocks and trees, eating food that may or may not have been good, but always tasted beyond amazing when you were eating it outdoors after a day in the sun or the rain…

Sometimes we get to create those touchstone experiences for the young people we work with.  They are invariably some of my favorite CAT programs.  Our most recent trip was to South Carolina for the East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival, with a young man who participated in the 2013 Gitchi Gumee Project – and this trip, too, was amazing.

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I don’t know whether my favorite thing about this trip was the 80 degree weather in early April, the hospitality of the organizers and coaches of the event, the variety of sports and craft that Jose got to try out, or the fact that, once again, I had the tremendous privilege and joy of introducing a young person to something brand new to him.  And then getting to show him even more of that sport – new skills, new crafts, new venues, a broader cross-section of the community…

I think, when it comes down to it, that what makes my favorite programs my favorites is this.   It’s about that same visceral, not quite speakable sense that comes with the smell of rain and the sound of it on my tent.  The years-long search for the perfect golden brown marshmallow, and a way to melt the chocolate for the S’more it will fill.

*     *     *     *     *

Jose was nervous about paddling when he joined us at the Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium for the Gtichi Gumee Project.  Some of our volunteers were worried, the first day, when he had a difficult time staying calm with a wet exit.  (A wet exit is a required skill when you paddle a sea kayak if you wear what’s called a spray skirt. The skirt keeps water from coming into the cockpit – it’s not so important, it turns out, to stay dry; but a skirt is helpful for the stability of the boat.  A boat filled with water handles sort of like a dishpan filled with water.  If you’ve ever tried to carry a full container of water, you know that once it starts sloshing, it just starts sloshing more.  It can be tricky to keep your balance in a boat that’s doing that.)

I worked with Jose for a good 30 to 45 minutes, helping him to find a way to stay calm as he dumped his boat over, pulled the skirt off his boat, and came back to the surface holding onto his boat and his paddle.  Two days later, he was surfing on Lake Superior.  The grin on his face touched the hearts of a whole lot of paddlers.  It was one of those rain-on-the-tent marshmallow moments that none of us quite had the words to describe.

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Jose can surprise you.  He’s very quiet, almost painfully shy.  It can be hard to tell if he understands a piece of technique you’re teaching him, whether or not he’s having a good time…  Then you watch him in a class on technique and realize he’s really quite talented, and is taking in everything the coach is saying.  He’ll tell you that he hopes he gets to come back to the event, and you realize, in the tone of his voice and the way he looks directly at you once he’s finished his sentence, that the event hasn’t just been fun for him; it has made an impact on his life.  You ask him what the best part of the trip was, and he says it was the rescue class.  You ask him why, and he says it was because the instructor trusted him to demonstrate how to stabilize a boat as the instructor climbed in and out, demonstrating a variety of entry strategies.  You hear him say that it “touched his heart” that the coach trusted him to do that.  Now, you realize why he wants to come back.  You begin to realize the nature of the impact this has had on his life.

*     *     *     *     *

Jose is very quiet.  Sometimes, when others are quiet, we want to talk.  When there is silence, we want to fill it.   — If we can listen into silence; if we can listen long enough to let someone else talk; if we can listen our young people into speech…

… if we can listen, we realize that our young people have something to say.  And that we will find our hearts split open

warmed and filled – touched, perhaps

at what they have to say.

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I got to accompany Jose on his first airplane trip and his first time seeing the ocean.  I got to teach him how to tip at dinner at the Baltimore Airport on our way home.  I got to paddle with a dolphin with him.  I got to watch him learn archery, struggle with short track mountain biking, learn to sail a kayak, practice a variety of rescues when he still doesn’t much like a wet exit, learn to move a boat with some precision, try out a surf ski and paddle a SUP board without falling down once.  I got to watch coaches take the time and care to coach him well; and to watch him experience trust.  My job was to accompany him.  To watch and to listen.

I got to listen him into speech.  And then I realized –  we’d had a rain-on-your-tent marshmallow trip.

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.

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!

Today, meet Jennifer!

The staff and interns attempt some teamwork at the 2012 Intern Orientation.

 

Name: Jennifer Lipske
Previous/Current Occupation: Special Education Teacher
Childhood Ambition: I wanted to be a teacher or an astronaunt.
3 Words that best describe you: Dependable, Competent, Flexible
Proudest Moment: The day I became a mother, and going back to school for my Master’s in Social Work.
Why Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT)? I chose to intern at CAT because I want to work with adolescents and young adults and help them achieve their goals, realize their strengths, and empower themselves. I believe CAT offers a unique opportunity to reach young people through the use of adventure therapy and provides them with the tools they need to achieve growth and change.
What have you learned so far in your internship? I have learned about a wide variety of adolescent populations and some of the challenges they face everyday, and this has made me more aware of the world as they see it. I also got on a rock climbing wall for the first time which was amazing!
What has surprised you about CAT and/or about Adventure Therapy? I am surprised at how much this opportunity has effected my life already and how just being out in natural settings can really be an empowering feeling and a powerful vehicle for change.  

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 want to introduce you to “Humberto.”  We first met him in August of 2010; he was pleasant, quiet and polite.  When we saw him again in early October, we learned while we were drinking hot cocoa after paddling into the evening that “Humberto” was going to be running the Chicago Marathon in a couple weeks.  We were going to have a cheering station halfway through the course, so we asked “Humberto” what he might like for us to have for him there – something he couldn’t carry with him.
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We were a bit surprised when he answered,
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“Well, I like watermelon.”   
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So started our now 2-year tradition of handing out watermelon at Mile 14 at the Marathon.
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“Humberto” paddled in the Flatwater Classic race with us on the Chicago River.  We saw him over the winter when we climbed indoors. We saw him at our very first summer program with this group of guys –  “Humberto’s” small group cycled to the Lincoln Park Zoo and were mesmerized by a tiger.  “Humberto” had never been to the zoo.  He’s 16.
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We didn’t see a lot of “Humberto” over the summer.  He had a summer job.  We missed him.
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So we were pleased when he showed up for a paddling program in July.
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He had bruises on his face. 
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For me;
for our staff;
perhaps for you
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it’s disconcerting and disturbing to see someone’s face full of bruises
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As he talked with Stephanie, he told her about having been “beat out.”  He’d decided to leave the gang – to do that, he had to make an appointment with them to be be beat for 3 minutes.
Cooling off in the Jackson Harbor Fountain
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We usually have lots to say about working with this group of young men.
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  • About trauma, and the way it re-wires the brain — and the way our programming can re-wire it again, providing access to the cerebral cortex and the ability to think before acting
  • About teaching them what we have come to think of as “Chicago Literacy” – where North is, where downtown or the harbor or the zoo are in relation to their neighborhood, how to get there on CTA, how to read a map – so that these guys can have access to their city
  • About what it is for them to get some simple respite, away from their neighborhood; a chance to let their guard down
  • About the way their faces soften when they start talking about the beauty we introduce them to; about the paucity of beauty in their lives
But when we think of “Humberto,” this is what comes to mind
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  • we hope he sticks to his decision
  • we hope his decision gives him more possibility in the rest of his life
  • we can’t claim that we had anything to do with it
  • we’re glad we have had the opportunity to meet him
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He has reminded us how hard it can be simply to bear witness.
We hope it matters.
We believe it does.

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!