KEEN Effect Grantee in Action: First Descents
Through the KEEN Effect Grant Program, we’re introduced to passionate organizations around the world who are dedicated to making our world a better place. First Descents is a group that is dedicated to just that: increasing outdoor participation through innovative and creative ideas, and introducing new audiences to the beautiful places we call home. Through the KEEN Effect, First Descents was granted $10,000 in the spring of 2015, but this program has been around for almost 15 years already.
Since 2001, First Descents has offered week-long adventure programs to young adults living with and surviving cancer free of charge. It all started when founder and professional kayaker Brad Ludden began helping teach kids how to kayak at a local pediatric oncology camp. After his aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, he realized he was in a place to give back. From that exposure he decided to create an adventure camp for young adults surviving and living with cancer.
Ludden believes that there are three key things to every great experience: the places you’re at, the people you’re with, and the challenges you encounter.
For me, it was really an experience of trust. Trust was a huge thing because you learn to trust your body again, to feel so much more confident in yourself. That wouldn’t have happened without all of this support surrounding you. – Mindy Swan
Swan took part in First Descents on one of their first trips down the Middle and North Fork in the Montana wilderness. Just like many others, she had never been in a kayak before and by the end of it they were going down rapids by themselves.
“I learned how to roll! I was so jazzed about that part of it.”
First Descents has grown tremendously, and in 2013, the group saw an opportunity to sustain their positive effects by creating localized adventure support communities with First Descent Tributaries (Tribs) located in major cities across the country. Tribs provide continued support through year-round adventure experiences at the community level. These local chapters serve First Descents alumni as well as young adults living with cancer who have not yet attended a week-long First Descents program, while also engaging the donors, supporters, and volunteers who make the programs possible. These outdoor adventure experiences are conducted at least once a quarter in locations ranging from winter hut trips in the Colorado Rockies, to kayaking excursions on the Potomac River in DC, to surf clinics in Southern California. In the past two years, they have offered nearly 500 outdoor adventures to young adults, positively impacting thousands of people.
Currently epic First Descents Tributaries are located in
San Francisco, CA.
Los Angeles, CA.
New York City, NY.
We’re happy to report that the First Descents’ KEEN Effect Grant will help establish a Portland-based Tributary, increasing First Descents’ impact in the Pacific Northwest.
The KEEN Effect team is thrilled to be supporting First Descents and its mission to grow a community of people who are “Out Living It” by leveraging the power of the great outdoors.