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Posts Tagged ‘Youth’

December 15, 2012

Dear friend,

I expect that you, like me, are reeling from the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday.  Whether it hit you in the gut as you heard the awful news, or took a day to settle in, the enormity of the tragedy is unavoidable.

In the midst of the grief, powerlessness, anger and despair, I did what I often do.

I went paddling.

I went paddling to find silence, perhaps solace, to remember that in the midst of horror and tragedy that we are powerless to fix, the world is also a good place.

 

It did not lessen the grief, the anger, the despair.  It did — whether because it brought me back to myself; because it let me feel my own strength in my arms, my core, my legs; because it offered perspective  — it did lessen my feeling of powerlessness.

Paddling today brought me back to myself.  I’ve watched it do the same for our kids.  One young man last summer showed up to a paddling program angry with the world and refusing to participate.  He eventually agreed to paddle in a double kayak with one of the program’s mentors, and got into the boat with a scowl.  As we were paddling back an hour and a half later he told me that he had lost something.  I didn’t hear what he had lost.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t hear.  What did you lose?”  -Did he lose a water bottle?  -A flip flop?  -Just don’t let it be a pair of glasses!

“I lost my anger.”

As it did for me today, paddling brought this young man back to himself.

I am powerless to fix the horror and the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday, or the violence on the streets of Chicago every night, or the abuse or oppression that so many of our young people face every day.

What I CAN do is to work with our Chicago young people.  I can help them lose their anger.  It is my small contribution to making the world safer for our kids. It feels insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead. Nonetheless it is what I can do.

 

 

 

 

I invite you

– encourage you

– to join me in making one small contribution to making the world safer for our kids.

 

 

 

 

For each of us it will be a different thing.
  • Some of us will hold our kids a little bit tighter and a little bit longer.
  • Some of us will advocate for stronger gun laws, better access to mental health services or increased funding for human services.
  • Some of us will pray, whether alone or with others.
  • Some of us will spread messages of hope on our Facebook pages or Twitter feeds.
  • Some of us will work to get the economy of this nation back on track.
  • Some of us will make sure that we tell our friends, our family, our kids, our spouses that we love them.  We will make more time to be with them.
Please take a moment to do whatever will bring you back to yourself,
– what will ground you,
– what will restore your belief in humanity,

– what will remind you of what your small contribution to a safer world for our kids will be.

 

  • Your contribution will be small.
  • It will feel insignificant in the face of 20 kids dead, with 6 adults who loved them.
  • It will make a difference.

Your contribution, whatever it is, will join mine. They will join the contributions of the other 1,265 people who will receive this note via email or see it posted on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.

1,267 people each doing one small thing will make the world safer for our kids

If one small thing for you includes a donation to Chicago Adventure Therapy, I promise you that it will make a difference.


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.

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Meaghan ran the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for CAT last year. Thanks, Meaghan! Read about her experience below and see some of the pictures CAT staff took at the Charity Block Party at Mile 14! For more info on the Chicago Marathon, head over to our racing page!
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Meaghan writes:
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I was approached by my very dear friend, Stephanie Miller, one day and asked, “Hey, have you ever thought about running the marathon?” I replied, “Well, yes, actually, I have. It’s one of the things on my life’s to-do list, my bucket list.” Stephanie quickly responded, “Would you want to run it this year?” Oh, wow, this year? I hadn’t been running very consistently and had always figured a marathon was a few years away. I told Stephanie I wasn’t sure, but asked her why she had asked. Was she planning on running it?? Because if she was going to run it, I totally was going to run it. Sadly, she told me that she was not planning on running, but that the organization that she works for, CAT, was looking for runners to fundraise for them and run the marathon. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe if I was supporting a good cause and if they helped me out a bit, I just might be able to pull it off. Of course, I was still skeptical about my ability to actually run this thing, but figured I’d hear her out. She told me that CAT would assist me in fundraising and would provide me with a coach. The amount I had to raise for CAT was a very attainable goal and I knew I would definitely need a coach if I was going to run A MARATHON! So, to both our amazement, I agreed! Uh oh, what did I get myself into? Oh, well. Too late. And, that feeling quickly passed. I was happy to be raising money for such a great organization. CAT is such a unique organization that does really great work with inner-city youth. I enjoyed telling people who I was raising money for and most people had never heard of CAT. I enjoyed spreading the word.
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At the beginning, before I had started training, there were a couple meetings with a couple of the other runners to throw around some fundraising ideas. The ideas from someone who had ran a few races and had experience fundraising was helpful. She let us know how often to email people, what types of things to include in the emails, and just some good tips about fundraising. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate in any group fundraising, but that probably would have been a lot of fun.
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The best part of being associated with CAT for the marathon was access to Coach Brendan and his running group. I emailed Coach Brendan a billion times, a few before I even met him, asking him all kinds of questions – did I need new shoes?; how should I be changing my diet?; should I try to get out of this commitment?; am I really going to be ready to run a marathon at the end of this?. He is an amazing guy who kindly answered all of my questions and didn’t make me feel strange for asking all of them. Coach Brendan was available via email for any question I had along the way. He would make sure he spent time getting to know you when you showed up for training runs and he would run or bike alongside you to watch your form, ask how you were doing, and give you some tips. He was always available after runs to talk about how you were feeling. I met some great people through this training group and ran with some of them on race day and still keep in touch with them – and am planning to run with them again this Spring to train for a half-marathon (yes, just a half…the full thing is no joke!).
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Ok, I know earlier I said the best thing about running for CAT was the Coach Brendan training, but I lied. There were a few “best” things: Coach Brendan, fundraising for CAT, meeting new people, talking about CAT along the way,…but I think the best part for me was seeing Stephanie out of nowhere run up to me with a sign she had made for me and having her run alongside me telling me how proud she was and how thankful she was that I ran for CAT. Since then, I have met more of the CAT family and everyone is so passionate about what they do for CAT. It was hard to say no to Stephanie when she asked me to run the marathon because I know she so strongly believes in CAT and its mission, which made me want to do what I could to help support that. Now, after meeting even more members of CAT, I can honestly say I am so glad I did it and I wouldn’t want to fundraise for anyone else. I won’t be running the marathon for a while (if ever), but I’ll be sure to make CAT my fundraising beneficiary if I do!

Welcome to our new Chicago Adventure Therapy website and blog!

I don’t know just what to say in welcome. When I don’t know what to say or where to start, I usually start with the here and now. Right now, I’m sitting here on a sunny, blue-sky January day, with a cold front coming through tonight to bring us 6 inches of snow.

Corny as it sounds, the warm sunny day with its impending Winter Storm Watch brings me to what I’d like to say today.

Because the weather is at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We’ve all gotten to keep our winter coats in waiting; we’re all gonna get dumped on. The weather doesn’t play favorites.

But we’ll all take the news of snow in so many different ways. If you’re a paddler and you’ve been enjoying the extended Chicago paddling season, you might be disappointed. If you’re a skier, you’ll be pleased. If you’re harried with the everyday work slog, you’ll be annoyed to have to get up a half hour earlier to clear ice and snow from your car…

Personally, I’m hoping that the snow comes early, and that I can play hooky for a few hours and go paddle on the Chicago River. I think the River might be at it’s prettiest in the snow.

Chicago River in the snow

When I paddle on the River, I’m reminded that there are those who experience the River as a means of survival, not recreation. I’ve learned which bridges have dwellings under them; where there are people who want to be quiet and unnoticed, and where the guys are who will give me a hard time; whether it’s a make-shift dwelling with beer and a pile of clothing, or a well-designed shelter made by someone with solid campcraft skills.

My point is this. Chicago’s resources are like the weather. They are at once a profound equalizer and a harsh reminder of the difference that privilege and circumstance create. We all experience them. We’ve all got the River, the Lake, the parks, free days at the museums. But those resources mean such different things for each of us. The River is a recreational treasure for me. For the people living along its banks, it’s a means of survival.

The youth we serve experience Chicago’s resources radically differently than most of us reading this blog. When I paddle by a shelter along the Chicago River, I find myself thinking about the youth we work with at The Night Ministry – youth who sleep at friends’ houses, at shelters, outside – wherever they can find a place. I hope with everything in me that while they’re still young, we can help them develop the personal resources they need so that as adults they won’t be living in one of those shelters.

But it’s not just personal resources they need. They need access to our city’s resources.

 

I want to digress a moment to tell you about a friend of mine. I’ve known him for maybe 7 years. “Joe” grew up in the Lathrop Homes. He’s got a history riddled with violence, mental illness, substance abuse and heartbreak. When I met him, he lived along the River. When he gets lonely or his heart breaks, he thinks about going back there, because he doesn’t have to deal with other people when he’s under the bridge.

“Joe” and I once had a very long conversation about the guys in the gang prevention group we work with. I asked “Joe” for his advice and insight because as a boy and young man he was successful in the Latin Kings. I asked him to help me to understand the realities of a life so far removed from mine.

The next day, “Joe” called me. He told me it was really important. He said

I have to talk to you about the kids you work with. You just have to love them.  That’s what you have to do.  You have to love them.

I don’t want our youth to have an adult life like “Joe’s.” Our hope, our job, our dream, our mission at CAT – is to make a difference in their lives so that their adult life is different than “Joe’s.” We look everywhere we can to figure out how to make that difference.

  • Our first program evaluation is almost complete
  • Our staff has been working hard to develop and define out Clinical Frame
  • I talk to “Joe” fairly frequently, to try to get a better understanding of what life and this city really is for our youth
  • We look to Best Practices in the field of Adventure Therapy, recent brain research, and a variety of clinical theories and practices in our program development
  • We try to give our youth access to the amazing resources this city has to offer

The most important point underlying all of this is to follow “Joe’s” advice – to build authentic, appropriate relationships with our youth.

 

Sometimes it sounds a little silly to me to say that we’re changing our youth’s lives by taking them paddling; or making the city better by climbing with our youth.

But I believe it 100%.

A new perspective

 

Imagine our 4 weeks paddling with a group of 15 girls from Alternatives, Inc. The first week, many of the girls were scared to put their toes in the water. They were scared of fish, sharks, drowning, barracuda, getting their hair wet… Stephanie had bruises on her arm at the end of the first day because one girl held onto her arm so tightly the entire time – in knee-deep water. The next week, we went into water that was over their heads, to many screams and squeals and shouts of “I’m gonna die!” The next week, we went into water not only over their heads, but deep enough that they couldn’t see the bottom. This was when several of them, including the girl who bruised Stephanie’s arm, got out of the boats and learned to swim. The last week, we paddled beyond the pier at the south end of Montrose Beach. If you know that beach, you’ll know that when you round the pier, you lose sight of the beach. And you get about the most spectacular view of this city’s skyline that you can find anywhere. These girls got that view on a perfect summer Lake Michigan day, when the water has just a touch of movement to it, and a color that rivals any Caribbean beach.

Here’s the exciting part – memory and emotion are stored close together in the brain. The neurons activated in each are close together, so they spill over into each other a little. The emotion that goes with that day and that view – the magic that is a combination of accomplishment, wonder, satisfaction, camaraderie – that emotion is tied to that view of Chicago; it’s one piece of their experience of Chicago. They literally, concretely saw this city as they’ve never seen it before.

Chicago for them is just a little bit changed. — And it’s theirs.

I love the warm weather we’ve been having. And I can’t wait for the winter beauty that comes with fresh snow. I hope that both will remind me that we’re all in this city together; and also that this city treats people very differently based on race, ethnicity, economic status, gender expression and sexual orientation, access to power, and a lot of other sad and unjust reasons. I hope that you’ll join me, our staff, our board and our volunteers in the momentous adventure of changing life for our youth, and changing this city for them.

We’ll keep you posted on the adventure, and how you can be a part of it.

Thanks!
–Andrea Knepper, LCSW
Executive Director

Good paddling

 

Ready to Launch on Montrose Beach

 

Today I’d like to tell you about a young person who we had a harder time connecting with than we do with most of our youth.  We found it challenging to connect with her because it was a little bit challenging to like her.
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There were several things that made it difficult for us to have the empathy we strive for.
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  • She lied
  • She was manipulative
  • She was very good at pulling each of us away from the group
The hardest thing for me, though, was how hard she worked to convince us she was inept and incompetent.  She learned, somewhere in her 13 years, that it was beneficial to her to hide her strengths and convince people she was helpless, worthy only of pity.  She seemed to crave connections, but only knew how to create them through weakness.
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We don’t know a lot about her life or her home.  She told us disturbing things about her family.  She told us disturbing things about how much food she got at home.  We had to talk with our partner agency several times to figure out which of us was going to follow up on some of the things she said.
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One thing is clear to me.  She desperately wanted to be loved.  And she thought she needed to be someone different than she was in order to get that love. 
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So she told us lies.
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  • She tried to get us to pity her.
  • She tried to get us and her peers to admire her.
  • She tried to get us to give her enough attention to fill up the hole in her hurting heart.

Learning to Surf at Montrose Beach

The responses she tried to elicit from us, sometimes successfully, didn’t make her feel better.
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They didn’t make us feel better either.
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So we thought carefully about how to respond.  There were lots of ways we knew we DIDN’T want to respond:
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  • We didn’t want to let her take any of us away from the group
  • We didn’t want to let her isolate HERSELF from the group
  • We didn’t want to ignore any real fear she had
  • We didn’t want to ignore any lack of basic resources at home
  • We didn’t want to pity her
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What ended up seeming to work was something that I found difficult to do.
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  • I’m a good social worker – I like to think I’m compassionate and that I respond when people need help
  • I’m a good guide – I don’t let a group get spread out, especially when the group is kayaking
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I let “Cora” go farther from the group than I ever let people go.
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I didn’t go after her or give her individualized instruction when she took off away from the group, looked back at me to make sure I saw her, and then plaintively called to me that she couldn’t turn her boat back around.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
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We had all seen her use her turning strokes.
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            — So I paid little attention to her.
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That is, I paid little apparent attention to her. I knew exactly where she was, how fast she could paddle, how fast I could paddle, where our staff were in relation to her, and how fast they could paddle. But I gave her little attention.
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“Use your turning strokes.”
“I can’t turn.”
“You can turn.  I’ve seen you.  Use your turning strokes.”
“I’m scared.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“I need help.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
“Come get me.”
“Use your turning strokes.”
She cried.
“Use your turning strokes.”
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We didn’t go after her. 
She used her turning strokes.
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When she got back to the group, we gave her lots of attention.  We congratulated her on her turning strokes.  We told her exactly what it was about her turning strokes that we thought was good.  We welcomed her into the activity the group was doing.
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We learned to pay enough attention to her to know what her skills were, where she was, and whether she was safe.
We learned to give her attention when she paddled back.
— When she paddled back to the group whose admiration, respect and acceptance she craved.
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It broke our hearts not to give “Cora” the sympathy she so expertly and plaintively elicited from us.
We think it healed her heart just a little bit to coax her to show us her strength.
To relate to her around her strengths, not her limitations.
To empower her to paddle into the group instead of away from it.

This week I want to tell you about “Rico,” a young man in the same gang prevention group as Humberto.

That’s not to say that I DON’T like others of our youth – I find that I truly, authentically enjoy intereacting with almost all of our youth.
But there’s something about “Rico” that I really like.
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  • He’s got a great sense of humor, that’s frequently slightly mocking of us, the CAT staff.
  • He’s really smart.
  • He’s not afraid to call us out when we say something or act in a way that’s not quite right.  Which is not to say that our staff is inappropriate – but when we work every day with people who live in a world pretty different from us, we sometimes say things that are offesnsive when we have no intention of doing that.  I think it takes a lot of courage and poise for a young person to call out an adult in a position of authority, and to do it appropriately and with humor.
  • He’s willing to try almost anything; even when it makes him nervous.
  • He’s got remarkable people skills.
  • He’s a natural and graceful leader – I have much that I can learn from him.
  • I love his enthusiasm for the technical pieces of sea kayaking – “Rico” and I are kindred spirits when it comes to paddling.

Devil's Lake

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There are so many stories about “Rico” that I’d love to tell you
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  • how he helped one of the mentors with his program on our camping trip:  She was terrified of heights, to the point of tears and hyperventilation.  “Rico” went back down the trail, sat with her, talked with her, and then walked back up the trail slowly right in front of her so she could watch his feet, and make it up the trail.
  • how he used his own experience to encourage his peers: On the first paddling program, he challenged me about whether the life jacket would work.  When I told him it would float him, he eventually told me “I don’t believe you.”  He was the first to capsize that day, and flailed around a lot in the water – until he realized he was standing…  The next week I asked him to help a new paddler with his life jacket.  “Rico” said “You have to make it tight.  Otherwise if you fall in, it’s gonna float up here (indicating his forhead) and it’s not gonna help you.  And you have to stay still.  If you move around it’s gonna get in your way.  You have to be still and it will work.”
  • how he worked hard to get his roll: He was scared to put his face in the water; but ended the summer so close to a roll that all the help he needed was a slight push on the boat with one finger.  (If you don’t know what a roll is – it’s when you sit in a kayak, turn it upside down, and then bring it right side up again while you’re in it.  It’s not in fact difficult to do, but it can be very difficult to learn.)
  • how he calls it as he sees it:  I was a little bit surprised when he told me that at the beginning of the summer I “talked like a rich person” but that now I talked “more normal.”  I was surprised again when I called out one of his peers for mocking us, thinking we weren’t getting it, during a serious discussion.  “Rico” grinned and said “you’re starting to understand us.”

Here is my hope for “Rico.”
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I would like to help him find a job in the outdoor industry.  He’s got the natural leadership skills and athletic ability to make an excellent outdoor leader.  When I asked him about it, he took it very seriously and told me that yes, he was interested.
More to the point – one of the mentors in his program told me that his gang has also noticed his leadership ability, and is recruiting him pretty hard.  A job in the outdoor industry could potentially give him an opportunity to use his leadership skills, still give him the adrenaline rush that he likes, and give him job experience.  It could provide the opportunity for a very different life – a life that could give him the opportunity to travel the world, rather than a life bounded by a territory four city blocks in size. 
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This is my hope for “Rico.”  We are trying to give him the opportunity.
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.
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.

Looking Back

By admin
July 14, 2011 6:20 pm

2010 was a banner year for us. We worked with over 300 youth, compared to the 35 we worked with in 2008 when we started programming. We added several new youth-serving organizations as partners, and also added a new outdoor partner and went cross-country skiing for the first time. We’ve added staff members and board members as well. Sometimes, we hardly recognize ourselves… What has stayed the same through the first three years of official programming is that our dedicated, energetic and creative staff provide services that offer life-changing experiences for our youth. We never stop being inspired – blown away, really! – by the challenges our youth accept and the change we see in them as a result.