At 8:30 am on Saturday, Hannah Nerenhausen, our Educational Advocacy Coordinator, and Nora Landis-Shack, our Development Assistant, stood up near their tent by the river and waved to their colleagues coming up the road. They had just spent the night camping at the headquarters of Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC) a nonprofit that offers white-water rafting trips to underprivileged youth and people with disabilities or special needs. Together with Case Supervisors Soyeon Davis and Alexandra Stanley, they began to prepare for a day full of team-building and fun for four CASAs and their assigned foster youths.
When the youths arrived, ranging in age from 12 to 17, they were a little shy, and a little anxious at the thought of getting into a boat and floating through Class 3 rapids. A full morning of getting-to-know-you-games and extensive safety talks from the ETC staff helped everyone grow more confident and more connected. A quick dip in the cold river to practice floating in our life jackets fully woke us up, and soon, everyone eagerly piled into the boats to get started on our journey.
Over 12 miles of river, the group had their fair share of splash fights, purposeful and accidental dips in the lake, a delicious beachside lunch, and some wild rapids that had everyone screaming first, then laughing later. A youth overcame her fear of the water and even jumped in voluntarily to float downstream, where before she had been nervous about dipping in her toes. One of the older youths received some impromptu guiding lessons and successfully steered our boat through some choppy waters. Another child had a blast hanging out with the supply crew on their rowboat, which just happened to have a big bucket perfect for dumping water on unsuspecting CASAs. One youth told us that she had been so nervous she’d even considered “calling in sick” to avoid the trip, but was incredibly glad she’d come along instead.
By the time the boats piled up on the beach at the end of the day, everyone felt as if they had known each other for a long time. The group had transformed from a collection of strangers to a tight-knit community, who had all faced some fear that day, which they had overcome. As everyone said their goodbyes and headed home, it was clear that the trip had changed staff, CASAs, and youth for the better. We hope to do the trip again next year, with even more youth to join in the fun.