Many of you know that I, like many young adults, have spent the past few years on a journey of discovery—discovery of myself, my world, and they ways in which the two intersect. I studied education at North Park University, completing a degree in elementary education and earning my Illinois teaching certificate in 2009. For the past two years I have taught in elementary classrooms around Chicago as a short and long-term substitute, trying my hand at teaching everything from bilingual kindergarten to sixth grade math. Along the way, I’ve also uncovered a deep love and respect for the power of nature—particularly in the form of weather, and manifested in my amateur hobby of studying meteorology.
When I reflect on this journey, it is clear to me that these most recent endeavors are actually indicative of passions that have long traveled with me. They reflect two convictions that are vital to my sense of being—the deepest of these convictions being that the empowerment of a younger generation by providing basic skills and education can drastically change the course of our world. Secondarily, but no less important, is the conviction that the beauty of the outdoors is powerful enough to change us as individuals and to create community among people who experience nature together.
The warmth of the sun beats down on me even as I write this-- I am constantly reminded of the many gifts I’ve been given. The dull, lonesome winter seems far away, and with school having wrapped up last week in Chicago, I find myself running into neighbors on the street corners whom I’ve not seen in many months. The city feels alive, and I savor these chances to once again connect with people and places in my world that come to life during the warmer months.
I am constantly dreaming up new ways to experience this city that I love, and in November 2010, I registered for my first 5k race and had the chance to see it from yet another perspective—that of a runner. On August 14, 2011, I will complete my first half marathon—also through the streets of Chicago. I’ll be running 13.1 miles that day in honor of Chicago’s young people. I am partnering with a wonderful organization, Chicago Adventure Therapy, which provides opportunities for underserved youth in Chicago to experience transformative individual and communal outdoor challenges in the beauty of Chicago’s urban wilderness. CAT seeks to help students who lack a variety of basic resources to discover and foster life skills. By changing the context in which they see the city and providing a means of stepping outside their comfort zones, students interact with one another and their surroundings in tangible ways. CAT teaches skills such as problem solving, decision-making, and more in the context of Chicago’s many urban wilderness areas—most notably in our parks and on Lake Michigan! Did I mention that CAT is the only organization in Chicago that adapts the wilderness therapy model right here in our urban setting? Life skills learned in the context of the outdoors—orienteering, cycling, even sea kayaking!—are then effectively transferred to student’s lives at home and in their neighborhoods.
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