Inner City Kids Kayak Camp

What happens when some of the world's top kayakers take eight kids from New York City paddling on Connecticut's white water.


On August 7th and 8th the Inner City Kids Kayaking Camp returned for its 11th year to the white water of the Housatonic and Farmington rivers. Organized and run by Soft Power Health, a 501c3 non-profit, the program brought eight students and two teachers from New York’s Graham Windham School to paddle Connecticut’s rapids. For all eight students it was their first time paddling and for most it was their first experience in a non-urban environment.

Graham Windham is the nation’s oldest nonprofit, non-sectarian child welfare agency. Founded in New York City in 1806 its core mission is to provide safety, stability, education and family for children whose own families are unable to do so. All eight students who participated in the program were residents of the agency’s Hastings-on-Hudson education and treatment center which serves over 300 at-risk day and resident students from the New York City metropolitan area. The students that participated in program were given the opportunity based on grades and good behavior.

Soft Power Health and the Inner City Kids Kayak Camp are headed by medical doctor and professional kayaker Jessie Stone. The goal of the program is to introduce kids to an environment they would not otherwise experience. “It’s a portion of the population that would never get a chance to do this otherwise,” says Stone. “They need that opportunity.”

The program is funded by individual donors and a sponsorship by dry bag maker Aqua Pac. In addition to Stone the program was staffed by some of the world’s top pro kayakers from Team Jackson Kayak including company founder Eric Jackson, Dane Jackson and Courtney Kerin. Once the group reached Connecticut the staff was augmented by local paddlers Andy Kuhlberg of Canton, Rob Paggioli of East Granby, Dave and Paula Saaf of East Granby and Karen and Katelyn Green of Farmington. All staff members donated their time with some of the locals even taking time off from work to participate.

The five day camp began earlier in the week on Monday at the Graham Windham School’s outdoor swimming pool where the students were taught the basics of kayaking. After two days in the pool the students were introduced to paddling on the open water of the Hudson River in New York on Wednesday. The final two days brought the students through progressively more challenging white water in Connecticut beginning with the Housatonic River on Thursday and culminating with the class III rapids of the Farmington River’s Tarrifville Gorge on Friday.

Despite the fact that some of the students aren’t able to swim without a lifejacket they all developed enough skill and confidence to paddle their own boats through all sections of the rivers. Most admitted afterward that they no idea they would be tackling large rapids when they signed up for the program. “I thought it would be all just flat,” said 16 year old Tanisha from Manhattan, “I’ve never done anything like that before.”

At the end of the Friday’s outing Stone and her staff held a small graduation ceremony. Students received T-shirts donated by Jackson Kayaks and bags donated by program sponsor Aqua Pac. Throughout the week Stone and her coaching staff used kayaking as a vehicle to teach a variety of life lessons and values. During the graduation ceremony Eric Jackson reiterated some of the ideas that he had presented earlier in the week saying “remember there are three ways that you can leave a place when you visit: you can leave it worse, you can leave it the same or you can leave it better. This is something we all do every day.”

To read learn more about the Graham Windham School and its programs click here:

To read Eric Jackson’s blog entry about this year’s Inner City Kids Camp click here:

For more information about Soft Power Health click here:

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