“Sojourn Mentees” from the YWCA Tri-County Area participate in the Schuylkill River Sojourn. Photo courtesy of Kate Rauenzahn, YWCA Tri-County Area (Pottstown, PA).
The Schuylkill River Sojourn, held annually for the last 24 years, is not only a terrific opportunity to paddle the Schuylkill, the largest tributary to the Delaware River, it is an exercise in building community partnerships and helping individuals develop a lifelong appreciation for our shared waters, no matter when they start. This year’s Sojourn was an example of how both of those goals were fulfilled by partnering with one local organization.
Schuylkill River Greenways shares a mutual goal with YWCA Tri-County Area (YW3CA), located in Pottstown, Pa., to expand the experiences of local residents, increase the connections that youth have to their community, and empower youth with knowledge and confidence.
For the past four years, we have been able to offer a “Sojourn Mentee” program to youth in Reading, Pa., providing them with the opportunity to paddle a day on the Sojourn. This year, we were ecstatic to be able to expand this program to Pottstown’s YW3CA youth, with the help of funding from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the convener of the Our Shared Waters coalition. We were thrilled to be able to introduce a cohort of young adults from a new community to the river and help to foster their lifelong relationship with recreating on and along the river. The key to the Mentee program is pairing youth participants with longtime experienced kayakers to provide an opportunity for new paddlers to learn skills and improve their paddling form. With this boost of confidence and knowledge, novice kayakers are empowered on the water rather than daunted and are more likely to return to the river.
This year’s Sojourn theme, “River of Refuge” represents what we hope the waterway and its banks offer for so many residents of our region - a place to rest, recharge and recreate. Though this has been a difficult couple of years for everyone, it has been especially challenging for young adults experiencing a coming of age during this chaotic time. The river offers a refuge by providing a space to relieve stress and realign ourselves with the natural world around us.
Although the concept is simple and the Sojourn takes place over just a few days, the planning portion of the mentorship program is a year-long event. We prepare for the annual Sojourn by not only figuring out the logistics for the event, but also by building relationships with community partners, families, and young adults who may be interested in an experience like the Sojourn. Relationships take time to develop, and we seek to partner with organizations with whom we have shared values and goals.
Partnering with Our Shared Waters to support YW3CA youth was a great fit, and the feedback shared with us from the YW3CA participants embodies the experience we hope all paddlers feel from their time on the river:
Kate Rauenzahn, YWCA Tri-County Area Youth & Young Adult Empowerment Manager, remarked, “I was very grateful for the opportunity to take the girls out on the water with such an amazing group of people! I felt very welcomed, especially since our YW3CA group was a mix of experienced kayakers and girls that had never been in a kayak before! This was a great way to offer a new experience to the girls and introduce them to a new outdoor activity they can enjoy during their free team and utilize as a tool to positively impact their health and wellness; physically, socially, and emotionally!”
Each of the five young women who participated said they enjoyed the experience and would be interested in repeating the Sojourn now that they had gained the confidence, skills, and sense of community the river trip provided them.
“Everyone there was so kind and ready to teach. Most of all, everyone was so excited to share their passion for kayaking. That feeling was contagious.”- Jonae H.
“For me, this was a very eye-opening experience. I had always wanted to get into kayaking but just never did. I found this is a hobby I would love to take up more and share with my family as well.” - Rachel K.
“It was a challenging yet rewarding experience, and I would absolutely do it again.” - Sarah K.
“The experience was incredible, I loved it. It was cool to see all the plants and creatures along the way.” - MacKenzie M.
“I learned to kayak for the first time, and I learned to never give up on your goals.” – Emily W.
For us at Schuylkill River Greenways, this feedback is what inspires us to keep connecting our community members to one another and to the amazing resources our river offers. Breaking down the barriers keeping people from their waterways - whether it is financial, physical or emotional - is something we continually strive for because we know the experience is transformational.
The younger the age at which we introduce our community members to the waters we all share, the stronger their connection, sense of responsibility, and enjoyment will be.
The powerful experience of a Schuylkill River Sojourn is an opportunity that Schuylkill River Greenways would love to expand to more young adults who live along the Schuylkill River. Anyone interested in supporting the program can reach out to Schuylkill River Greenways directly to provide financial support.
Finally, I encourage interested paddlers to save the dates for the 25th anniversary of the Schuylkill River Sojourn from June 17-23, 2023! We hope to see you on the river!
Sarah Crothers Bach is the Education Director for Schuylkill River Greenways.