“I work with youth in the inner city and I love to kayak! Kayaking attracts people from all walks of life, all abilities, all age groups. You can make it work for anybody.”
In this short film, River Mom, we’re introduced to Lori Neufeld. She’s found kayaking to be a marvelous way to reach out to the inner city youth she works with, as well as connecting with fellow local paddlers:
Lori took the time to share with us more about her background and her work with Inner City Youth Alive, a Winnipeg non-profit:
Lori’s Background and Introduction to Kayaking
Lori was born and raised far away from the kayaking world, in a small prairie town in Manitoba. Her adventurous nature and love of the outdoors took her up trees, on the baseball field, over the cross country ski trails and into the open spaces around her home.
After high school she moved to Winnipeg to pursue her education and what she thought would be a career in wood working.
While there, she learned about a local non-profit called Inner City Youth Alive, and began to volunteer there in the evenings.
She had no idea that would change her life! She shares:
“While my heart was set on building high end furniture, my faith called me in a different direction. After months of fundraising my salary, I was running programs at Inner City Youth Alive.”
ICYA works in Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood with the at-risk youth who grow up there. One of their programs is a remote summer camp that, coincidentally, bought a fleet of kayaks the year after she started working for them.
Lori had been introduced to kayaking through a fellow volunteer and was hooked immediately. The camp’s kayaks were stored at ICYA’s main site in Winnipeg during the off-season, and were accessible to the staff and youth.
Kayaking Becomes a Way of Life
“I paddled as much as I could that first year, and bought my own used sea kayak a year later—along with my first Aqua-Bound paddle! I took a course, built a rooftop carrier out of 2x4's and plywood, and off I went!
“It was through courses, pool sessions, and connections through work that I met and started to develop a community of paddlers around me, and was also introduced to whitewater kayaking."
Lori has always been one who loves to give to others. So sharing her love of kayaking and teaching others the skills she had been learning has come naturally to her.
Whether with the young people through ICYA, friends and family in Winnipeg, or her students at the local paddle shop, Lori has become known—as a couple friends share in the above video—as “River Mom” to many in her local area.
The Challenges of Getting At-Risk Youth on the Water
There are several challenges Lori faces when she takes ICYA youth paddling:
- Finding the gear—When ICYA’s kayak fleet is at the camp during the summers, Lori has the task of collecting or renting gear from others. At times that’s involved driving several hours to pick up the equipment, then clean and return it.
- Because she works with young people, permission forms need to be signed for any special activities like kayaking. Tracking down social workers and parents for this can be daunting at times.
- And, Lori shares, “The barriers our youth face day-to-day can have them changing plans right up until the moment they get into the van.”
But she keeps doing it because the rewards are real.
The Rewards of Kayaking with These Kids
Lori loves how kayaking provides so many different ways of reaching the kids ICYA focuses on:
“Kayaking connects me with the kids. I'm not exactly the type of person they would hang out with. We come from very different upbringings. But when we're on the water and I'm working hard to give them a great experience, we share common ground.
“Our youth don't always get the chance to be kids, often carrying more responsibility than the average teenager. So watching them on the water laughing and having fun is so important for them. The pressures of North End life can be overwhelming and just one afternoon outside of the city can make a huge difference for a kid.
“Tough kids from the inner city become super vulnerable the first time they get in a kayak. They're great listeners and they learn quickly.
“After the class is over, we have memories to share for years to come. Kayaking allows each youth be an individual, going at their own pace and managing their own gear. But it also has a team aspect that has them paddling alongside their friends and/or mentors and working towards goals together during certain drills or games.”
The chances these kids will get to pursue kayaking as a lifestyle are almost nil. Their families face enough challenges with life’s basic needs, making the costs of a sport like kayaking prohibitive.
But many of the kids repeat the kayak classes when they’re offered, and express interest continually.
“Teaching kids to kayak, whether in the inner city or the suburbs, is always a life-giving experience. Kids teach me so much. They're not afraid to try something new, they laugh off mistakes, and they like playing games!
“The youth I work with are kind, fun-loving, and remind me that there's always hope, even when the circumstances might say otherwise.”
Thank you, Lori! For more about ICYA, check out their website: www.icya.ca.
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