Graham- Windham School in Hastings on the Hudson is home for over 130 kids who don’t or can’t live with their parents for a variety of reasons.  Some at risk situations, some with troubled backgrounds, all of them real kids hoping for a better life.      These kids are part of a state program where, for many, the hope is to find a “permanent family situation”  which can be a foster home, adoption, or being able to return to their own families if the situation is acceptable.    In the meantime, they are provided with schooling, activities, and training in how to adopt and grow and become self-sufficient, confident people.

Jessie Stone, an original member of Team JK and long time friend, has been running her NYC kids camp, teaching kids to kayak, who would never have access to it otherwise as a horizon broadening experience for them.    This is her first year working with the Graham School.  She worked with the “Boys and Girls Harbor of NYC” before.       Jessie’s long-term commitment to helping others is apparent in her everyday life and she truly makes the world a better place.     She is an angel on earth for so many.


We have a group of kids who were given the opportunity to participate in this 5 day intensive kayak school program.    The instructors are Jessie, Courtney Kerin, and myself.    For the whitewater river sections on Thursday and Friday, we had Andy Kuhlberg helping us with safety and instruction well as David Silk, Paula and David Saaf.    We have three teachers/administrators participating with the kids, too.   Pierre, Michael, and Mr. White.    We also had the lifeguard, Danielle, come to the flatwater section of the Hudson and do some pool stuff.


The kids in the program are:  Manny, Josh, Justin, Devinique, Brianna, Tanya, Larissa, and Eluminata.    They are ages 12 to 17.


The first step was identifying who could swim and who couldn’t.   Mr. White, and Larissa were both “non swimmers” so teaching them to float, swim with a life jacket and without was a big part of the pool program.   Few of the kids were particularly strong swimmers, so getting them comfortable in the water was step one.   Eluminata was a strong swimmer and couldn’t wait to show us her abilities there.    By the second Day I had Mr. White and Larissa swimming the length of the pool in one shot.   I can’t tell you how much of an accomplishment that was for both of them to go from a non-swimmer to being able to do that.   Their smiles were well worth the effort!

Jessie has a fleet of boats from the early days of the kids camp and it is like a JK museum!    Most are 2004 boats with the rear adjust, ratchet backbands.    Most of the ratchets are no longer functional and only the 2005 boats with the Sure Loc system (rope) are all functional.    I couldn’t believe how many of the ratchets have failed.   Hmm…  That is a successful testimonial for our rope/cleat system as there is nothing to fail.     The 2004 Fun series is the primary boats used here and they are by far the easiest for the kids to use.  We have Heros as well, but the kids prefer the Funs as they are lighter and easier to maneuver.     The kids and instructors range in size from around 100 pounds to well over 200 pounds.  We have 2 funs up to Super Funs.   I am using my Karma L for Pierre (240 or so- big guy!) and he is paddling it well.

We had thunderstorms interrupt our first day in the pool and we were cut short.   Instead of wrapping up we went to the gym and did contests to see who could put their spray skirts on the fastest.   We had a three way tie for 6 seconds with Pierre, Larissa, and Eluminata.    Not bad.    We did get wet exits and some paddling around in first.   KC was all over the pool and demonstrating how fun and not scary it can be.   He loved the kids and played with them, whether they liked it or not! Most loved having him play with them.  Eluminata is KC’s favorite, I think.

On Tuesday we had some good instruction time and we did rolling and bracing, and worked on strokes some in the little pool.     The kids started to get the paddle down a little bit.


On Wednesday we went to the open waters of the Hudson River in Hastings.    It was their first time trying to make the boat go straight and actually get somewhere.   Whoa… that was interesting as we went upstream first and it took a while to get Eluminata and Michael upstream, but by the time we turned around both of them were doing great.  Eluminata switched from the Hero to the Super Fun and was much happier having a boat to turn easily and be wider and more stable as well.     We got a few kids “rolling” using phase 3.  Larissa, Tanya, Manny, and Justin were all getting it.     A couple of relay races wrapped up the day before the tide went out turning our little haven into a mud pit.

On Thursday, we went into CT to the Housatonic River and ran a section above and below the powerhouse that was perfect for the kids.   Pierre missed the open water day and was trying to paddle his boat for the first time at the put in and it took about 30 minutes before he could make it go anywhere.    It was a funny experience for me, but not sure about him.   That is what happens when you miss a critical step in the learning process!    By the time we peeled out to run the first, and biggest, rapid, he was doing much better.    Manny, Justin, Tanya, Larissa were all rock stars and paddling around like experts.      We ran down through a big hole that flipped some over and we had 2 three swims with Michael, Pierre, and Larissa.    They all got back on the horse and we were off!   Before the second rapid a Bald Eagle flew overhead and landed on a  tree by the river.   It was the perfect thing for these kids to see.  The first eagle they have ever seen, and it was in the wild.    A Blue Heron took off and one of the instructors said “pelican” and other kid, “Another eagle” which is expected as you don’t see Herons in NYC and where else would you see one if you lived there and didn’t get out of the city?    By the second Heron everyone recognized it.  Loons were also spotted and the kids were quite impressed with the variety of new birds.


Tanya wanted to lead the rapids, as well as Manny.   I had them up front for the smaller ones, leading the way, reading and running.    Everyone learned their river signals and were quickly learning about pinning on rocks, getting too close to each other, etc. etc..     Lots of laughing and some nervousness, but plenty of high fives.


We passed a very sad sight with a terrible trash pile by the river.   A party scene with beer cans, paper plates, diapers, etc. etc..   The kids learned that it isn’t only in the city where there are pig people.      Jessie stopped on the way back home and we picked up as much as we could.     We got a group photo, missing only Brianna, who didn’t come on Thursday.     Everyone tired but happy.


We returned back to Jessie’s house (where she grew up), in time for Kristine and I to play some backgammon and go to bed after a ravioli dinner.   It is sad that Jessie’s father is no longer living, but you can’t ignore his presence when you are in his house.   As one of the premier art dealers of New York and San Francisco, with the “Alan Stone Gallery” his house was one of the most impressive (the most impressive) personal collections of art, displayed in the most impressive way possible- by over stuffing an old three story mansion, that looks like a haunted house on the outside, and you know it is one when you get on the inside, full of dark and weird art.     A Hawaiian princes and her missionary lover’s head under glass… not shrunken, but just there?    Can’t imagine many places in the world more unique and full of wondrous stuff.   No wonder Jessie is so unique herself, and not afraid of anything.    If you can survive growing up there, with numerous accounts of her resident ghosts, then you are going to be fine anywhere…     I love going to her house, even if I haven’t been able to get a personal visit from their uninvited inhabitants.


Friday, our final day, would also be the biggest day.    We would drive up to the Farmington River in CT, about 2.5 hours away.     This river would test everyone’s new found skills.    It was another nice day, high 70’s, and the water was medium/high due to heavy rains a couple of days earlier.     Andy Kuhlberg, Steve and David Silk, David Saaf, and a C1er guy that helped out too, but I forgot his name.    Of course Jessie, Courtney, and I were there to lead things off.


After our put-in we met a guy fishing from a boat and caught a pike and a bass while we watched using a plastic salamander in the shallows.    Tanya, the curious one, wanted to hold the fish.     He had a dog that got a lot of attention, too, and we spent 20 minutes just hanging out listening to the fisherman, seeing our first beaver dam, and admiring his fishing skills.


Below the first rapid, Tanya found freshwater clams in the sand and, again, was collecting them, along with her rocks, seeds, and other new treasures.     Meanwhile, Lariza had to go to the bathroom and I explained how she had the opportunity to do her first open air bathroom in the woods.  She said, “I am not going in there alone!”  I sent Courtney in with her and she seemed to enjoy the adventure, something new.   Manny and Justin tried the same thing on the other side of the river, which was cool as they were comfortable ferrying and getting around the river and were starting to go off on their own more.


We got to the “Mill” where the wildwater race starts for the “Triple Crown” and everyone jumped in the eddy by the wall.   A big brown Wolf Spider jumped on Eluminatta’s boat and, WOW, she freaked out.   Attempting to hit it with her paddle just scared it into the water and then it jumped from boat to boat and it was a chain reaction of “OMG!!”    Everyone was slapping, dancing around and trying to escape the little terrorist.


Our next peel out would take us into the longest most technical rapid of the trip with old bridge pillars at the bottom and some pinning rocks.    I went first and lead a group with Tanya, Manny, Justin, Lariza down with Pierre, Michael, and Eluminata right behind.   Mr. White decided to walk this one.    Both Michael and Eluminata had to be given the hand of god after their peelouts.


I kept looking backwards and Lariza was getting swamped in the waves and her face was that of somebody wondering if she was going to survive.   Everyone stayed upright and made it into the eddy before the final big rapid where the slalom course and play hole is.     I told the group that the steepest rapid was next, Lariza said, “no” as in, “I am not doing it.”    I asked the group if they wanted to take the easy line or the hard line in the final big rapid.    Lariza raised her hand and said, “hard line” as did everyone else except Pierre.    I lead as we went down through some holes and through or around pencil sharpener hole (depending on how online they were).   Amazingly everyone stayed upright again!     Michael got surfed in the playhole but didn’t flip.

We did some swimming around and across the river as well as Jessie, Andy, Courtney, and David did some training.     Jessie tried the new Rock Star s and loved it.    David paddled my Rock Star M as well as Andy and they both want to get one.

Finally we got out and got the kids together for a graduation.   Jessie quizzed each of the kids on something they learned during the week before giving them their Jackson Kayak T-Shirts.   The kids had us sign the shirts and some were going to hang them up.

Thanks for a great week, thanks to Jessie Stone, and the Graham School.   Courtney, Andy, David Saaf and David Silk, as well the C1er.

Here is my quick edit of some GoPro footage….


Great job:  Brianna, Devonique, Tayna, Lariza, Manny, Justin, Mr. White, Michael, Pierre!!