Clouds began to form in the sky along with a looming expectation of rain coming. Myself and the five other members of Canoemobile’s Rig 4 began packing away our PFD’s and paddles. We had just ended a special event in Michigan City, Indiana called Creekness Stakes. This river race serves as a fundraiser to help us and the Trail Creek Association bring hundreds of Michigan City Schools students out paddling in their local waterways. We spent the prior week teaching 4th through 8th grade students the basics of canoeing and outdoor leadership along with land rotations covering the subjects of micro-plastics, macro-invertebrates, water quality and local history. We had expected that some of these students would be joining us again with their families for our open community paddling after the race was over, but as the event ended, it appeared that the impending weather had deterred all of our potential paddlers.
As we were finishing packing up, I went over to the parking lot across the street to gather some items I had left behind. Right as I approached the parking lot, I saw a familiar face. “Ms. Maddy!” A young girl exclaimed. I got closer and recognized DeAundria, a fourth-grader who I had taken out in my canoe earlier that week. DeAundria was accompanied by her mother and older sister, who quickly introduced themselves to me as well. “Did you bring your family here to canoe with us?” I asked. DeAundria nodded her head excitedly. Bringing them over to sign our waivers, I alerted the other outdoor leaders to unpack the PFDs and paddles. We had people ready to canoe! As I handed out PFDs and paddles to DeAundria and her family, another fourth-grade student, A’mia, showed up with her uncle, grandfather, and four-year-old brother.
While we suited everyone up to go out canoeing I looked over and noticed DeAundria enthusiastically demonstrating her paddling skills to her sister and mother. She held up her paddle “this part is called the T-grip, because it looks like a T! Now put your hand on the bottom. Good.” Then, she motioned the actions of a forward paddle: “Okay, it goes: paddle paddle paddle, pizza pizza pizza!”
I walked over to them, trying to contain my excitement. “Oh my goodness, DeAundria, you remember everything! I think you should be a boat captain!” DeAundria shrugged and said, “Well, I learned from the best!” As the other family members joined us, the sun began to peek through the clouds. I took a step back and watched in amazement as DeAundria and A’mia taught the entire group how to paddle. Including the three rules of boat safety, and lead the group in coming up with a team name “I think we have some future Wilderness Inquiry leaders on our hands,” I said and watched DeAundria and A’mia’s faces light up.
After the paddle, I had the chance to talk to DeAundria’s mom, CaSaundra. She told me that she hadn’t been canoeing since she was in fourth grade, but it was a very fond memory of her childhood. She said that she had been looking for a way that she could take her daughters out canoeing and that everywhere she looked there wasn’t an option suited for them. When DeAundria came home from her field trip and told her we were going to be doing free canoe rides on Saturday, she knew it would be the perfect opportunity. DeAundria joined the conversation. “Mom, I’m going to set an alarm so that we remember to come back and canoe every single year!” CaSaundra smiled, and thanked all of the Wilderness Inquiry staff as they left.
DeAundria, A’mia, and their families are the reason why being an outdoor leader can be so rewarding. In one 30-minute paddle, we are able to connect students and give them an experience so enjoyable that they wanted to share it with their families. Witnessing that quality time that the students share with their families in the outdoors is a feeling of pure joy that is unlike anything else. I am so lucky to be a part of a program like Canoemobile, which allows me to play a small part in making a large impact on so many children.