The rule, when working with folks with special needs, whether elderly, those with cognitive or physical disabilities, or any other special needs, is to be ready to adapt. The Adaptive Kayaking program the Blackstone Heritage Corridor planned with their partners, All Out Adventures, was scheduled for this fall at Wallum Lake, Douglas. The four sessions planned began in Douglas. Then Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) reared its head and the town of Douglas, along with many other towns in Massachusetts, was considered to be under critical threat of people contracting the serious, even fatal disease.
Rather than cancel the program, Suzanne Buchanan scrambled and found an available, suitable alternate location that would not subject participants to serious risk of exposure to EEE. Adaptive Kayaking adapted, and moved to Regatta Point on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester.
Rain never prevented the sessions from taking place, although the previous Saturday’s program was interrupted by rain for a time. More adaptation was necessary, paperwork was put away to protect it from the wetness, and everyone sheltered for a time till the rain blew past. As a light drizzle continued, the intrepid volunteers and participants headed out. They were probably going to get a little wet anyway, right?
During another session, a bald eagle flew right overhead, offering an added, unplanned thrill for participants, volunteers and staff alike. One session was filmed by drone by Heritage Corridor Photography Ambassador Bob Evans (you can volunteer your photography skills!) Check out his five minute video here.
The last morning of the program dawned cool and sunny. Volunteers, both experienced members of RICKA (Rhode Island Canoe and Kayak Association) as well as Corridor VIPs (Volunteers in the Park) arrived ready to get to work. Even as we set up registration tables, the whirring of helicopter blades sounded in the sky. Throughout our program, life flight helicopters at UMass Medical Center, right across the street from the park, came and went. A sober reminder that for some, this was not a very good day at all….
When the All Out Adventures van arrived, volunteers sprang into action. They had done this for the earlier sessions, and knew what was needed.
Life Jackets were ready to be set out, waiting for participants to be carefully fitted prior to getting into kayaks. The boats were unloaded and brought to the shore.
Adaptive equipment was readied, prepared for many different types of challenges our participants might bring to the event.
Prior to the arrival of the first participants, we gathered and received “marching orders” as it were, from Patty, from All Out Adventures. When it comes to dealing with the boats, Patty is in charge. Safety equipment was identified, and where we could quickly find it if needed. Everyone was given a clear role. Two volunteers turned out to be EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) and they were our designated first responders. Participants began to arrive and everyone hurried to their places.
So much happens behind the scenes for an event of this type. Pre-registration allows for clarification of any needs the participant has that must be taken into account. The day of the event, additional information is gathered from each participant to assure everyone is cared for wisely.
Tandem and single boats are assigned, with volunteers ready to assist transferring participants into boats, and then taking the back seat of tandem kayaks to assure safe paddling experiences. Additional single kayaks hold experienced paddlers. One lead kayak, one at the back of the group, and another to the side, stand ready to assist if any problems developed.
At last(!) everyone was into boats and launched into Lake Quinsigamond. It was quite breezy, so the group of paddlers gathered in the water and headed across the lake together.
Each of the four events in the total program offered several sessions, so this routine of gathering in the water, then heading out together was repeated each time they went out. We were blessed with sunshine the whole day for this last time.
While the outings were basically uneventful, even the experienced volunteer paddlers had a few harried moments, and were happy to report NOBODY even came close to getting a dunk in the lake!! A young boy and his mother stopped by as we were readying to go out, and they had never been in boats. We had room, got them signed up, paired them up with volunteer paddlers in available tandems, and they joined in on the fun.
The little guy worked hard to help out, but finally announced, “I have finished paddling. Everyone else can keep paddling. I’m done!” And he was. Back on the beach, his mom was all smiles and indicated that she was ready to step up as a volunteer. This is how it happens….
We even helped stalwart VIPs Dick and Jill celebrate their wedding anniversary. They were persuaded to try going out in a tandem kayak together. Others kept talking about how tandems are called “divorce boats,” and there were perhaps a few times their paddles crashed into each other, but they managed, and both arrived on shore together and smiling. We all wished them a happy anniversary.
The four-session program could not have happened without the staff and kayaking equipment of All Out Adventures. The program was funded by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) through a grant written by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and Heritage Corridor staff, especially Suzanne Buchanan, was present and ran the program throughout the four sessions.
The next Blackstone Heritage Corridor VIP open house is scheduled for Tuesday, October 15th 6:30 – 8:00 at the Linwood (Northbridge, MA) office. This is an opportunity to learn of our unique volunteer program and see where your volunteer interest can be matched. Imagine the possibilities!! RSVP to Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Buchanan Volunteer@blackstoneheritagecorridor.org
Happy trails, and happy paddling!
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Finding the Sacred in Everyday (and some very strange) Places.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.