Archive for the ‘Big City Mountaineers (BCM)’ Category

Wilderness Wind began partnering with Big City Mountaineers in 2009. Characteristics of the BCM program include:

  • taking at-risk youth on wilderness trips (in this case, canoeing trips)
  • the youth come from neighborhoods in Chicago and Minneapolis.
  •  a 4:5 adult to youth ratio
  • partnering with social service agencies in at-risk neighborhoods who are not only sending
  • the youth on wilderness trips but are sending adults who know the youth. A mentoring relationship is thus established prior to and can continue after the canoe trip.

 This is our second summer working with BCM and we have enjoyed and been stretched by it. The other evening one of the WW staff briefly overheard part of an end of trip debriefing discussion. A teen asked one of the leaders, “What do you do when you get angry?” This is a very striking question for a youth growing up in a challenging neighborhood. I asked their team leader (the equivalent of our trip leader) to write about his recent experience with a group of youth from Enlace Chicago, an organization Little Village.  Thank you to Duncan Forbes for his contribution. At the end of his article, I have added information about the stretching aspects of the WW/BCM partnership.        Kathy Landis, Executive Director

On our first night at Wilderness Wind, we gathered around a campfire and began to discuss our upcoming wilderness expedition in detail and set out group agreements and expectations to ensure the success of our team of nine. This was the first time all of the teens had been on a multi-day canoe trip, and for some it would be their first time in a canoe.

The following morning as we started our trip from Snowbank Lake, a Bald Eagle swooped down to the water in front of us. After crossing Snowbank, the excitement built over the following two portages because our next challenge was a 220 rod portage which would be our longest portage of the trip and on the first day! By the end, the group was exhausted and proud of their accomplishments. After setting up camp, the teens began swimming and catching lobsters. Later, they were informed that these creatures were not lobsters, but crayfish, whatever the case, another first. 

The second day was full of laughter, homesickness, sweat, and joy. By the time we reached our campsite we had achieved a level of cooperation that some groups don’t realize until much later in an expedition. That night we began to analyze and interpret what this experience meant for us. As we shared the list of “firsts,” we began to realize that though we came from different backgrounds and cultures, we could join together for an indescribable expedition in the wilderness.

 We spent the next two days traveling and mastering our skills as backcountry canoeist and working together to ensure our group was cohesive and successful. These days proved to be fairly challenging due a driving rainstorm on Vera and Ensign Lakes and because of overall fatigue.

A gathering of the Enlace group at Cattyman/Gibson falls.

 Between our last night in the wilderness and our final night at Wilderness Wind, the group began to understand and appreciate the impact of this trip. Each of the teens was challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally. Toward the end of the trip, we reflected on the trip’s successes and frustrations. We asked, “What did you learn about yourself? And what surprised you most about yourself during this trip?” Almost every response related to gratitude and respect. All of the teens spoke honestly and truthfully, stating that they had forgotten how much the people in their lives care and provide for them. Most wanted nothing more than to return home with their new found sense of respectful behavior and confidence and tell their entire world. When stripped of most things they have known in their life (running water, electricity, TV, cell phones etc.), they were able to find a joy in the natural world they never knew possible. They began to express themselves in ways they never knew and understand themselves in a way they would have not have learned in Chicago.

 During our final reflection we asked the group, “What are you going to miss most about this expedition?” The primary response was “the group”. In seven short days, nine strangers met, paddled almost 40 miles, portaged 1498 rods, saw two bears try to eat our food, saw four Bald Eagles soaring and had countless laughs and as many struggles, and by the end we became a humbled cohesive unit and evolved into a family.

 Enlace Chicago: Duncan, Jason, Henry, Albert, Magdiel, Ramon, Arnol, Jorge, Jose

 And how is this partnership stretching Wilderness Wind? Relationally, the two organizations are matched well. There is simply an abundance of good energy and interest between the two parties and the individuals involved. Facilities-wise, Wilderness Wind has some shifting to do. You will note in earlier blogs the mention of the bunkhouse. With the addition of BCM groups, we needed a fourth campsite at the top of the hill. Over the years, we have desired replacing the tents with something more comfortable for a wide age range of campers and less time consuming for staff as the tents require putting them up, washing and taking them down each year. With the need of a fourth campsite, the question rose, “Do we buy more tents, or do we make a transition to something more versatile?” We obviously chose the latter. Putting up a building is always a stretching point, but we believe it will also be something that will benefit both Wilderness Wind and BCM campers.

Gifts that appeared in my office the morning Enlace left Wilderness Wind.

 But we aren’t quite done yet, BCM has been very gracious with us as we have needed them to hyper-organize their gear. The only building we have available for their gear storage is shown below. It is a 10 x 12 building. It currently houses all their gear for two full canoe groups of nine people. We are not only talking about life-jackets, packs, paddles, sleeping pads, pots, tents, eating utensils, maps, stoves, fuel and even food, this small building also holds sleeping bags, clothing, footwear and raingear for all the participants. The interior of the cabin is too small to demonstrate this with a photo, but suffice it to say, my most organized friends have been very impressed. This is not a long term solution and though BCM is being gracious, it is also an area of needed and asked for improvement particularly as they increase the number of groups they serve next summer. Your help, through donations and time, to build a new gear storage structure is welcome.

BCM's gear storage building - a bit small for all the gear and clothing for two canoe groups.


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