On Sunday, April 3, youth from UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home visited Vertical Endeavors in Glendale Heights, Ill. to participate in a simulated mountain climbing activity. Tiffany Paino, the gym’s facility manager, led the activity while youth were paired with volunteers from Chicagoland’s growing climbing community to learn the ropes.
In addition to being a fun activity that takes the youth outside of their everyday surroundings, there are also clinical benefits to these types of activities. Youth who have suffered long-term abuse and trauma often live with extreme fear and anxiety. Even after the immediate trauma has passed, these uncomfortable feelings can resurface at inappropriate times and manifest in unhealthy behaviors. UCAN works with youth to learn how to manage and regulate these feelings through a variety of interventions. “Activities such as these, which invoke a healthy amount of fear, are an excellent opportunity for our youth to successfully manage and work through uncomfortable feelings. This is part of the process of healing trauma,” explained Kathleen McCarthy, UCAN’s senior vice president, placement continuum.
Additionally, youth who have experienced trauma can often feel worthless and suffer from significantly low levels of self-esteem and have difficulty trusting themselves and others. Challenge and adventure based activities give them an opportunity to achieve something that seems difficult or impossible and can be a long lasting self-esteem booster.
Another important tool that a youth can gain from climbing activities is building trust. This can be especially important for youth who have experienced trauma and have lost trust in others due to abuse, neglect or other life-altering situations. Climbing helps foster a sense of trust in others, as you must rely on another human being to keep you safe and support you by belaying and assisting in the climb. “When you get to the top of a 35-foot wall, and look down at the person holding your ropes, you have to choose to trust that they will lower you safely to the ground,” stated Nicole Seaton, UCAN grants director, volunteer and experienced climber.
Like many people, a fear of heights or just a fear of trying something new can be intimidating. The youth who experienced some initial reservations were able to tackle their fears head on and meet the challenges presented. “It was great watching youth overcome their fear of heights, fear of strangers and fear of new situations. I partnered with a girl who was terrified when she started. Two hours in, she decided that she was determined to get the top of one route, and she succeeded” Nicole recalled.
The outing was overwhelming a success. UCAN staff and the climbing volunteers recognized resilient attitudes possessed by the youth in attendance. Staff members commented that the youth were polite and enthusiastic about the activity, specifically observing that they were eager to work with volunteers and learn about climbing. “It is always amazing to watch our youth challenge themselves and work hard to succeed which certainly occurred at our trip to Vertical Endeavors. Seeing their smiles and sense of accomplishment is priceless,” noted Carl Fifield, therapeutic recreation coordinator at UCAN.
We are extremely thankful to Vertical Endeavors for generously agreeing to allow youth from UCAN’s Therapeutic Youth Home to climb after hours once a month. We look forward to a continued partnership.
If you have experience in climbing and would like to volunteer, please contact Nicole Seaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.