HELLO, FELLOW VOYAGERS!
Winter Challenges and Fun
Kaitlin McBane, Program Leader/Volunteer Manager
As a Program Leader with Chicago Voyagers, I work closely with Roosevelt Middle School in Bellwood. I lead three journey programs in the school with a group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
Our winter cold weather didn’t slow us down, and we’ve been continually running programs. In fact, facing tough weather has helped our kids grow in their resilience to uncomfortable situations while discovering the beauty outside. Recently, we’ve been trying out new skills with rock climbing and cross country skiing that have helped several kids face their fears in a healthy and safe environment.
One of the best challenges the weather brought us this winter happened on an iced-over section of our hiking trail. Instead of hiking, our entire group had to shuffle on our butts or crawl the iced-over tundra. We shared a lot of laughter in our new hiking positions, but we also learned how to not give up and be creative when finding a solution.
Our recent program focus has been on the different ways to be a leader, exploring styles such as authoritarian, egalitarian, and democratic. Each teen gets to try out these leadership roles in small groups and feel how their teams respond. They’re learning that different groups and different situations can call for different leadership methods. What I’ve really loved to see is how each participant has learned to communicate better and have strengthened their relationships with their teachers. It’s because they have been leaders to their peers that they have become more empathetic with how challenging it can be to get a group of middle schoolers to listen.
I want to thank all of our supporters, especially our volunteers over the past season. Because of your support we’ve been able to provide the youth those one-on-one conversations and relationships that are vital in the work we do. I look forward to the new season and to more adventures that help us discover more — inside and out.
Program Leader/Volunteer Manager
Devon is in the 8th grade at Roosevelt Middle School. He lives with his mom and younger sister in a neighborhood marked by violence. Devon is surrounded by a lot of louder, older youth in this neighborhood who leave him feeling overlooked and overpowered. Because of this, Devon had been having difficulty in the classroom.
In fact, when Devon first started the Chicago Voyagers program three years ago, we also saw how shy and quiet he had become. "We saw him try to hide in the shadows. It was our challenge to bring him out,” says Kaitlin McBane, Program Leader. His biggest obstacle would be learning how to become a more vocal leader.
But one thing Devon has never lacked is commitment and inner courage. A rarity among his peers, he’s never missed a Chicago Voyagers program — not in three years. Through one-on-one time with staff and volunteers, Devon slowly started coming out of his shell. “It doesn’t happen overnight. They need to trust us, and we have to earn that,” explains Kaitlin. Since Devon was always there, he could see when the team needed help and he was eager to lend a hand. Soon, he began looking out for both the adults on the programs as well as his peers.
“We’ve seen so much growth, especially this past year, as he helps the other kids. Now we see that when someone needs help, we can depend on Devon to be the first to step up,” says Kaitlin.
Because of Chicago Voyagers programs, his teachers at Roosevelt Middle School have seen the same changes in Devon. His grades have improved, but more importantly Devon is starting to think about his future. As he looks to a career in the military, he’s focusing now on gaining skills that will make him a success in his field. We’re sure he’s on the right path, and his continued involvement in Chicago Voyagers will help him achieve his dreams.
Note: Youth names have been changed for their protection..
Patrick Burke was putting his canoe in the water when he saw another group of canoers coming off the water. Pat was there with family and friends enjoying an annual father/son adventure that combines three generations in the wilderness. They saw a group of teens who were undoubtedly having a blast, but yet didn’t seem quite outdoorsy.
“They weren’t in traditional outdoor gear; I saw Bulls’ uniforms and street clothes. But it was clear as they came off the water that they understood the outdoors as much as anyone more experienced.” Pat was intrigued and approached the team leader. “That was the day I met Bernie Rupe (Executive Director of Chicago Voyagers). Bernie explained what Chicago Voyagers was all about and handed me his business card out there on the water. I instantly knew this group matched my passion of being outdoors and giving people more access to the wilderness — and that I should volunteer.”
Pat understands that we are in the middle of an indoor epidemic, where people are spending more and more time inside, connected to screens and monitors. What’s worse, is that for many kids in Chicago, going outside in their neighborhoods can be dangerous — even in their own local parks. “What I love about Chicago Voyagers is that it gives kids access to a safe outside. It’s not just canoeing, it’s showing them a different world.”
As a volunteer, Pat works with the kids in extended programs, completing day trips before finishing with an intensive 5-day trip. He gets to create deeper relationships with the kids this way. “I think about how, for inner-city kids, the outdoors can be so new. If you’ve never seen a river, it can be terrifying to be in a foot of water. If you’ve never seen a hawk or vulture, it can be frightening. There’s so much we take this for granted in the city and even in the suburbs,” Pat says of those early trips. “But facing fears in this way, in the safety of the group, it helps them face the fears they have at home, in their neighborhoods, and in their schools. A lot of our problems can be solved outside; the wilderness sets us up for healing.”
Pat has since extended his volunteering to assisting with many of the videos Chicago Voyagers puts on their website. “Chicago Voyagers gives kids an opportunity to learn and grow, and see that there are other possibilities. They can get out of their current situation. The lessons they get in confidence and teamwork is something these kids can’t get anywhere else, and I want to make sure they continue to have access to these programs.”
To see Patrick’s latest Chicago Voyagers video, click here. In addition to his incredible videos, Patrick is a creative director and freelance writer. His most recent work was featured last month in Outside magazine. The story, “When the River Took John Squires,” is a harrowing account a real-life outdoor adventure. You can read or listen to it online at Outside Online.
”When a youth shares that on a program they feel at peace for the first time ever, its beyond meaningful and opens the door for a great conversation on how to find peace everywhere in life.”
For Kaitlin McBane, outdoor adventures are in her blood, and that’s what makes her so effective with our kids. You read in Kaitlin’s letter about what her groups at Roosevelt Middle School in Bellwood are up to — now let’s get to know her.
Avid summer camper as a kid; willing to try any adventure — white water rafting, sailing, hiking, cliff jumping
MA in Counseling Psychology and a BA in youth Ministry from North Park University
Will beat you at solving the Rubik's Cube
Was involved in youth services as kid, fueling her passion to work with youth today
Has been to (and loved) Japan, but still wishes she could visit the fictional Stars Hollow from the Gilmore Girls tv show
Wishes she didn’t need to sleep so she could read more books and make fancier meals
Thinks someone should make a TV channel just for her dogs to watch