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Head In The Game Grantee Spotlight: Chicago Voyagers (Illinois)

Read about Adrian's experience with depression and how Chicago Voyagers supported his confidence and self-esteem through outdoor sports

Moving through depression by stepping outside for sport: Adrian’s story

15-year-old Adrian struggled with depression after losing his brothers to the criminal justice system, and dealing with the numerous financial and personal challenges that followed. He often struggled to express himself and manage his emotions, which made his school life difficult. When his best friend then died, another layer of grief further intensified his emotional vulnerability. However, it was during this period that Adrian’s case worker introduced him to Chicago Voyagers and his way forward became clearer.

Chicago Voyagers, an Illinois-based youth organization that uses outdoor sports and activities to transform the lives of teens, gave Adrian the opportunity to try sports he’d never been exposed to such as canoeing and rock climbing. These experiences that took place in and around Chicagoland (Chicago metropolitan area) taught Adrian how to work in a team, and more importantly, to ask for help. The support of new friendships has given him space to be vulnerable and to begin healing through feelings of connectedness and trust. The teamwork and leadership skills he has gained have increased his confidence and self-esteem.

“I learned it is better to work with people than to do things alone. It is ok to ask for help. [And,] I learned that having others there to share my struggles with can help me heal.”

Adrian, 15, Chicago Voyagers participant

Rooted in behavioral health best practices, the organization’s unique annual adventure therapy program empowers 300 underserved teens like Adrian to overcome both personal and academic challenges. Its inspiring experiences give youth a chance to improve their mental and physical well-being and unlock their complete capabilities.

More About Chicago Voyagers

Chicago Voyagers collaborates with schools and community organizations to assist students at risk of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The majority of program participants come from low-income backgrounds (66%), with a significant representation of Latinx (53%) and African American (23%) youth who have special education needs (53%).

Access to nature and outdoor recreation is limited for most participants due to historical racial discrimination and violence in outdoor spaces. In Illinois, 77% of people of color live in nature-deprived areas (Center for American Progress, 2020).

Chicago Voyagers’ mission is to break down barriers to healing by introducing young people to green spaces and the joy and challenge of outdoor adventures. Its programs aim to prevent or mitigate the impact of ACEs by taking participants into nature, boosting self-esteem and fostering self-sufficiency.

These carefully designed, therapeutically informed programs promote self-empowerment through a wide range of confidence-building activities such as canoeing, rock climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, camping and backpacking. Dedicated program staff provide one-on-one mentoring to cultivate healthy, trusting relationships.

Chicago Voyagers has positively impacted over 5000 young people, with over 90% experiencing increased confidence and empowerment. Participants carry these newfound skills and perspectives back to their classrooms and communities, spreading positive social change and improving their daily lives.

To learn more about the ‘Head in the Game’ Program click here.