"I can’t get into the water, I can’t get into the water, I can’t get into the water," 14-year-old Jayson* said over and over again.
Jayson was standing on the banks of the Middle Fork River at Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood, Illinois, as his peers from Cunningham Children’s Home were offering him cheers of encouragement to join their float trip adventure. He was participating in a day trip organized by Cunningham’s Special Therapies staff. The summer tradition is in its third year and allows Cunningham kids the chance to explore the outdoors, starting with building a fire and preparing a hot dog lunch at a camp site, before an afternoon of hiking and activity on the water.
The boys had been excited for weeks about the new lazy river experience they were hoping to have, floating down the Middle Fork in inner tubes. Everyone but Jayson, that is. Before coming to Cunningham, a traumatic experience with water had made him frightened of it. And while Jayson had made slow, but great progress in the pool, leaving the comfort of the shallow end long enough to pass his swim test, he still felt a tremendous amount of anxiety anytime he had to find the courage to get into the water. A flowing river seemed much more intimidating and he was certain it would be more fear than he could handle. Jayson worried he would go under and not make it out.
So while his friends could hardly contain their excitement on the van ride over, Jayson was quiet. And when it was time to grab tubes and get into the water, his feet were frozen in fear as he repeated, "I can’t get into the water."
Jayson’s best friend, Karmen*, wasn’t having it and yelled, "You CAN do this!" Others also piped in, "We will do this together. We will be with you the whole way. We will go slowly." With all of the reassurance, Jayson got closer to the water’s edge, inch by inch, Finally, Karmen said, "You can tie up to me and if anything happens, I’m right here."
Although petrified, Jayson knew he could trust his friends and staff at Cunningham. They had been "right here" since his arrival on campus, providing unwavering support and encouragement to help him overcome his anxiety. So Jayson found the strength to do what he never thought he would be able to do—get into the water.
As they began to drift downstream, Jayson was shaking and his eyes were closed as he tightly gripped the handles. The water gently splashed against the side of the tube, rocking him slightly but the comfort of his friends laughing began to put some of his fears at ease. He got more confident with every bend and proclaimed, "This isn’t so bad. I CAN do this!"
It was a wonderful day for our kids and even more meaningful for Jayson as a morning full of "I CAN’T" turned into an afternoon of "I CAN" in his journey to hope and healing.
If you would like to help provide Cunningham kids memorable experiences like Kickapoo State Park, become a Guardian Parent by contacting Tim Manard, Development Officer, at (217) 337-9071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Our story is real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.