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Do Good Spotlight: From a spark to a flame.

CHICAGO ADVENTURE THERAPY: Guiding youth through the urban wilderness.

Community Organization: Chicago Adventure Therapy

Community: Throughout Chicago and beyond

Good Doings: Guiding Chicago youth through the urban wilderness, growing resilience and sparking change.

November 2022

From a Spark to a Flame

If you never fall, you’ll never know you are strong enough to get back up.

If you don’t believe in yourself, you’ll never know there are dreams out there that you can reach.

How do young people, faced with a world that doesn't always seem to love them, find their own power and the joy of discovering what's possible beyond their own "back yards."

I recently visited Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT) for their final after school session with a group from Imagine Englewood -- a S'mores celebration in the woods to mark the last day of their fall afterschool program. It was dark with freezing rain, so I couldn't get good pictures. But I could see and feel the community that was built around new experiences and encouragement, small sparks that one day may light a flame.

A first camp fire, rock climb, paddle in the lake, walk in the woods, taste of melted chocolate on a gooey, slightly burnt marshmallow. These experiences won't change the world, but they are sparks of light that can change a life. Imagination. Confidence. Fun. Joy.

As a wilderness guide for more affulent families, founder Andrea Knepper saw the power such experiences had to move people from doubt and fear to empowerment. As a licensed clincial social worker at a community mental health center, she wanted to open up the same possiblities, the healing power of nature, to young people in neighborhoods where trauma and poverty abound.

Today, CAT offers the opportunity for young people to leave behind the structural problems laid bare on their doorsteps, and enter a world where it is safe to explore and discover their own agency through adventure, fun and the freedom of knowing that if they fall, there is someone there to help them get back up and try again.

But don't get me wrong. CAT may be therapuetic but they are also FUN. I mean, they seriously know how to have a good time!

When you watch the face of a young person move from sheer terror at the prospect of climbing up a rockface to beaming with confidence having actually done it, the feeling of joy is pretty contagious.

All kids, big and small, deserve to know the joy of play, and thanks to CAT hundreds more in Chicago do.

CAT opens the door to possibility and change by taking young people on adventures that introduce them to new experiences and the power that comes with knowing that you can keep moving forward, even if you fall, that the getting back up fuels the hope and belief in onself and the world that resilience is built on.

Whenever I think of CAT, the Chumbawhumba song "I get knocked down, then I get up again" pops into my head. I am embarrassed to admit that until recently, I thought it was an anthem of persistence and determination and not the debauched drinking song that it is.

But the spirit still remains -- get back up after a fall and one day you will fly (cue the music!)

Thank you CAT for all you do to make people believe in themselves and our great city.

(scroll down to learn more and how to get involved)


Chicago Adventure Therapy is fueled by community members and has many ways to get invovled - to put caring into acts of kindness.

Spread the Word: Follow CAT on Instagram and Facebook to keep keep up with their adventures and places to explore in Chicagoland and SHARE. We think you'll be inspired to have an adventure of your own!

Buy Some Really Cool Apparel Whether for yoursef or at as a gift, check out some great gear in partnership with CLOZTALK.

Volunteer: There are so many ways you can share your good and talents with CAT -- OUTdoors as well as INdoors. Whether you've got tech/design skills to make a website shine, know how to scale rockface or are really good at fundraising, CAT welcomes what you have to offer -- and a little goes a long way! To express your interest and find out more, email or fill out their volunteer form HERE

Donate: Whether their core youth programming in partnership with Chicago community organizations, free family adventures in marginalized communities, adventure exposure at community festivals, or advenuture communities your support makes it happen!

Summer Internships: Are you looking for a rewarding internship working with urban youth through adventure therapy? Want to receive academic credit and clinical supervision? To apply, please send a cover letter and resume to Laura Statesir at

Amazon Smile and Wish List! Select Chicago Adventure Therapy on Amazon Smile so CAT can receive donations for every purchase OR check out their WISH LIST of cool stuff they need for their adventures!


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