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Posts Tagged ‘Wilderness Therapy’

This week Grace introduces us to two young men who helped introduce her to CAT.  Grace was a Social Work intern with CAT in the summer of 2010.  She completed work study hours with us throught the next school year, and then we hired her on.  We’re very glad to have her with us.
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If you, like me, find yourself inspired by the stories of these two young men and the other youth we’ve introduced in October, I hope you will take a moment to make a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy.  We work with some of the most at-risk youth in the City.  Most of our partner agencies are working with very limited budgets.  We offer programming on a sliding scale – agencies pay what they can afford.  We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons.  We work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic cost for them.
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We started programming in 2008, when the economy crashed.  We’ve had to be a resilient organization in order to stay in business and provide services for youth most in need in Chicago.  You have made that possible – last year 61% of our revenue came from individuals like you.  Donations of less than $100 are our mainstay; larger donations go a long way to support our programming and are highly appreciated. Soon we’ll be sharing with you some new CAT projects that will make each dollar you donate make even more possible for the young people we serve.

Hiking at Devil's Lake

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

The whole group did a great job with these goals, and Michael and Jeremy were no exception. I especially appreciated their willingness to help that first afternoon. I had never kayaked before, and was learning some basic skills- paddle strokes, maneuvering, wet exits, and my favorite: the cowboy self-rescue. All 5 youth had experience paddling, so each helped me learn what I needed to know out on the water.

I especially remember Michael and Jeremy helping me learn the cowboy reentry. If you aren’t familiar, this self rescue has the paddler re-enter their boat by ‘swimming’ up onto the deck, scooting around until she’s straddling it, and then pulling herself forward until she can sit herself back into the cockpit. Not only did I need help learning the steps- which the brothers patiently led me through- I also needed help finding the motivation to jump into the chilly water. They were pretty convincing, and pretty funny, as they tried to come up with reasons for me to jump in. Alas, I took the cold plunge and didn’t regret it!

The rest of the weekend was challenging, fun, and pretty impressive. On the first night, we weathered a nasty storm, which blew over 2 tents, a pop- up, and had us all outside at 3am, reconfiguring sleeping arrangements. Our youth were pros, though, and dutifully helped come up with a plan to get everyone dry, warm, and back to sleep.

When we wrapped up the weekend of kayaking and climbing over pancakes and bacon on Sunday morning, we asked each of the youth what they would take away from this experience, with an emphasis on what they learned about leadership. Michael and Jeremy both chimed in with thoughts about always having a Plan B, having the skills to adapt to a new situation, and being able to help a group reach its goals.

As a clinician, I would say all 5 of these youth already had the skills they needed to make the trip a success. I think, though, what the trip really did for each, especially for the two young men, was give them a new experience in an emotionally safe environment, where they could practice those skills around a group that completely understood and believed in their ability to step up. They weren’t out there to prove to Andrea and me that they could be strong leaders, they were out there to prove it to themselves. And once they did, they were ready to go back home, with some pretty great stories to share, and fit those skills into their every day existence.

— Grace Sutherland, MSW
*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Climbing at Lincoln Park Athletic Club

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Montrose Beach

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

Belaying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Founder and Director

Consulting the compass

Cooling down in the fountain @ Jackson Harbor

Cleaning up Jackson Harbor

Devil’s Lake

Dear friend,

As the Holiday season approaches and the year winds down, we still find ourselves busier than expected, working with some remarkable young people in Chicago. I hope that you will join us by making a generous donation to CAT.

Chicago youth face overwhelming everyday challenges
In 2010,

  • we worked with gang-involved youth who watch their backs every day
  • we worked with youth exiting the Child Welfare System and entering adulthood alone
  • we worked with homeless youth
  • we worked with youth questioning and affirming their sexual orientation or gender identity, trying to figure where and with whom they can be themselves

CAT helps
Here’s what some of our youth had to say this summer:

“I have learned to be a better person at home in the streets and everywhere else I go. I recommend this program to anyone who is struggling”

“My goal was to face my fears and have a great time doing it. I realy do feel like my goals were acheived because in the end I was climbing like a pro and kayaking like one too even though I was initially not sure I would be able to do either.”

You make it possible

We believe that no individual or agency should be unable to participate because of financial reasons, so we work with each referring agency to negotiate a realistic price for them. Over 2/3 of our budget is raised through the generous contributions of individuals like you.

Please make a donation today.