“IT’S SAFE, THE KIDS WILL BE FINE!” I yelled into my cell phone, trying to overcome a howling wind off the Gulf of Mexico.  In spite of the ambient roar, I could hear doubt on the other end spinning like a turbine.  Intuition, however, has a way of prevailing under duress, when communication is done on an instinctual level rather than through the confusion of words and reason.

I was speaking to Cheryl Jones of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh.  The pilot program of First Waves, a program developed by Ian Smith of SurfSUP Adventures, had reached a deadline for acquiring participants and I was in Texas for work, relying on a muffled phone call with poor reception to convince Cheryl that this program would be a good activity for her kids.  First Waves is a collaboration of non-profit organizations that utilizes whitewater paddleboarding, the art of filmmaking, and mentorship as a way to get underserved youth engaged in waterway conservation and recreational activities.

“So there will be rocks?  And whitewater?”

“Well, yes… but it’s an ideal location for beginners.”

“But what about the rocks?”

It’s true, we do teach participants to fall safely, but introducing whitewater SUP to students as a way to engage them in nature isn’t failsafe.  Nothing is, and that is largely the point.  Removing youth from their comfort zone exposes them to risk, and without risk there cannot be growth.  When they overcome something as volatile as rapids and waves and speaking on camera, they learn something about themselves – that they are powerful and can do great things, even with adversity engulfing them as they scratch for the surface.

Somehow, through the wind and static, I was able to convince Cheryl that First Waves was a good idea.  I’m not sure what she heard or felt but without her tremendous faith, it never would have happened.  Through partnerships such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, First Waves became a reality, influencing the lives of youth and an environment facing adversity.

After two amazing years, First Waves has been awarded the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh “Partner of the Year” for 2015.   Coming from an organization that is committed to making perfect matches, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Cheryl agreed to be a part of First Waves.

First Waves will premiere their latest film, First Waves Pittsburgh, at the awards ceremony on January 6th at the James Street Gastro Pub.  It will be made available at the following day.

A message about the BBBS of Greater Pittsburgh Coalitions Awards:

The 6th Annual Celebrate Coalitions awards are presented to individuals and groups who have offered exemplary service to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The purpose of partner of the year is to recognize our incredible collaborators who selflessly give to our organization and who increase the enrichment opportunities for our bigs and little to enjoy together. Any organization is only as strong as the partners that it works with and we are lucky to have so many great organizations and groups that make a Big difference. By honoring a community partner of the year we are able to say thank you in a special way to a top contributor and partner to BBBS each year.