With support from Toad&Co and the National Park Foundation, Canoemobile is connecting 1,000 individuals with disabilities to their local parks in 2016. Through this initiative, nine freshmen students in the special education program at Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School experienced overnight camping for their first time with Canoemobile.
This is their story by Canoemobile outdoor leader, Mike Hosken.
Event: Overnight with Abraham Lincoln High School special education students
Location: Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY
Human Activity: Canoeing and camping
Natural Activity: Mild hurricane
The elements were against us. We were in new location and fighting the tail end of a serious hurricane. In the end, it was the nine young individuals that brought us through the challenges with good cheer and light hearts.
When we greeted the students about 1 p.m. on Saturday, the weather was grey, but the canoes were dropped and loaded to go. After an ice-breaker game, we took the students to check out a hangar full of airplanes being restored. Together, we learned about the history of aviation and Floyd Bennett Field.
The weather was holding off for us so we hustled to paddle in Jamaica Bay. The kids were clearly excited and ready to roll. In our opening meeting, many expressed that they had never been camping or canoeing before. Their reasons for showing up ranged from “nothing better to do at home,” to “I heard of this and want to try it out.”
While many of them were most excited about telling ghost stories, canoeing was a very, very close second. We paddled for about an hour, singing songs, racing each other and chasing schools of fish. It wasn’t until the last 15 minutes that the misting began.
And the misting did not stop until afternoon the next day. Despite the conditions, the kids loved learning how to throw a frisbee, cook a meal and build a fire. The ghost stories in the evening had to be cut short, otherwise they would have been up all night sitting around the embers, feeding off of each other’s energy. Normally the rain is a surefire way to kill spirits and sour the fun, but the kids refused to be put down.
As morning broke, we began the process of breaking camp, with a good 10-15 knot wind to put some haste in our steps. We ate breakfast in the recreation center and sat down for our final debrief. Rather than being off-put by the weather, they couldn’t wait to try camping again in nicer weather. They began talking with their teachers about ways to share their experience in school and to bring the rest of their class with them. Their teachers enthusiastically agreed to support their petitions to the principal.
This is what turns Canoemobile into a magical experience. We managed to open nine students’ eyes to the wonders and the fun of spending time outside, and it was not a one-way transaction. They reminded us of the invincible human spirit, the cheer of a good fire, and the reason why Canoemobile staff spends hours in city traffic in a van. We do it because we are bringing amazing opportunities to people across the country. The opportunity to put away the distractions, the peer pressure, and, the schoolwork grind, and throw themselves into a new experience in the outdoors.
We will probably never know exactly what impact that 20 hours in the rain had on those kids, whether it was a one off or the start of a lifelong passion. But we do know that for 20 hours they were no longer just New York 9th grade students. They were avid historians, intrepid explorers, world-class chefs, and terrifying storytellers. They were exactly what they wanted to be rather than what they were told to be, and that is the beauty of Canoemobile.
Special thanks to RBC Wealth Management-U.S. for their support of Canoemobile.