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2009 Top-Rated Nonprofit

First Descent

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Camps, Health, Health Support, Sports

Mission:

First Descents is committed to curing young adults (aged 18-39) of the emotional effects of cancer and empowering them to regain control of their lives by experiencing whitewater kayaking and other challenging adventure sports in a safe, fun and supportive environment.

Programs: First Descents will invite 15 young adults with cancer to attend our week long program at no expense to them. During the week they are taught to kayak. Starting in a small pond escalating up to rolling the boat in class III whitewater. Along the way they form bonds with other participants, share thier common problems, learn to rely on their bodies again, and realise they have the power to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.

Community Stories

46 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

6

Client Served

Rating: 5

I have recently come back from my third camp as a camper at first descents. It is a place you go to challenge your self and finally feel you hace control over what you do. The staff is thare to watch you and help you when you need it and will make shure you feel safe. I would say this camp is the best one i have went to it really dosent even feel like a cancer camp. you are thare to make friends and have a good time and finally made to feel like you arent broken and you can do any thing.

11

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I recently worked as a volunteer at a First Descents Kayak Camp for young adults with cancer. The very positive attitude, support, and encouragement seemed to provide a wonderful experience for campers and staff alike. I hope to volunteer again.

3 cschmit8

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has been the most amazing thing that has happened in my life since cancer-if not my whole life. I recommend this camp to everyone I know with cancer. I get goosebumps just thinking about all the amazing bonds I've made within just the first day of knowing everyone! I felt more comfortable there than I ever have in my entire life. I'm absolutely in love with FD and would one day like to become a counselor! This experience has changed my life forever! The best thing about FD is that they push you in kayaking no matter what you're skill level is. I look forward to going back next year!!! :) Thank you, FD, for the best time of my life!

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is an amazing organization that centers on offering a camp experience like no other. It provides a great opportunity for young survivors to test their emotional and physical strength, to become strong again. I had never had the chance to go to camp as a kid. Before going, I had joked that this was my last chance to attend since I was almost at the age cut off (since it focuses on young survivors.) During my week at camp, I was challenged physically more than I could imagine, but never more than I was willing. I always felt safe and incredibly supported by all of the staff and safety boaters. I learned kayaking skills and had incredible experiences on the water. But the comraderie and support off the water was just as important. First Descents may have taught me how to kayak, but it also taught me how to live, Without Fear.

12

Client Served

Rating: 5

I am at a loss for words when it comes to describing First Descents, but I'll try my best. First Descents provided me with an incredible experience that allowed me to truly "live my life to the fullest," a feat I had never actually tried to achieve before. I was able to share a week of adventure, relaxation, and fun with a terrific group of volunteers and other young adult cancer survivors who allowed me to feel as if I could completely be myself. It was the first time in 3 years, since my cancer diagnosis, that I truly felt comfortable. I was able to finally be myself in a place that was SO different from where I live and from the way I live my life. I am so grateful for the experience and can honestly say that the way I view and live my life has been changed after the week I spent in Montana. I'm so inspired by the experience, as well as by the people I met, that I am continuing to live my life to the fullest and have just signed up to train for a half-marathon, something that would never have been on my "to do list" previously. I hope to be able to experience First Descents once again in the future and look forward to it more than anything else.

10

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First descents was an incredible experience, both for me as a volunteer and for the participants. Looking back at the video of the week and comparing the first tentative wobbles of the participants as they entered the current for the first time and comparing that with the footage from the end of the week where the entire group aced Graduation Rapid is very moving to me and still brings tears to my eyes because I am so proud and blessed to know everyone that I met at FD. To watch people come out of their shell and go from being scared or intimidated to enjoying things and being playful with what once scared them was amazing (and the parallels to life are obvious there too...). I think kayaking is a great thing for cancer survivors because it is a great equalizer. In paddling gear everyone just looks like a kayaker. Way to go FD!

11

Client Served

Rating: 5

Cancer took away my self confidence. First Descents gave it back. They don't tell you to take it easy or baby you the way everyone else around you has. They want you to jump in and take control of yourself again. I'm tearing up just writing about it because the volunteers, staff, and other campers bring such joy out in each other that it's really hard to describe the feelings that you have while your at camp and when you get home. First Descents for me is was a life saver!

10

Client Served

Rating: 5

You get to camp and are scared but then you remember that being scared is nothing new after going through all you have been through with your illness. Then you jump in, literally, to the water and start to aclimate to the world of kayaking. Kayaking lingo, kayaking thrills, start to become your focus and you forget the past, time becomes eternal, as you master the physicology of it all. The warmth, support and love of all the expert and dedicated staff reminds you just what matters in this world, not that you needed a reminder. By the end of the week your body is in better condition, even if you still feel sore. Lifetime friends are made and the place in your heart that expands to make room for more happiness grows bigger. It feels all so magical but it really is a result of all the positive energy that flows back and forth among everyone. It is a tremendous adventure, not to be missed. Adventure therapy-was definitely coined at First Descents!

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

When you are going through cancer treatment your family and significant other might try to understand what you are going through but no one knows better than other cancer survivors. First Descent's gave me a chance to get away from the harsh reality and enjoy the outdoors while learning how to kayak with other survivors that have gone through similar scenarios. For me, there was nothing better than connecting with nature while connecting with peers in which I can comfortably talk about cancer.

6

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is the most powerful organization I have seen. I attended First Descents and was blown away, not only by the staff and experience, but by the inspiring atmosphere that the campers help create. It provided an escape from treatment, motivating and EMPOWERING cancer survivors to beat their disease and take control of their lives.

8

Volunteer

Rating: 0

I have had the unique opportunity of working with First Descents since their 2nd year. I first was a fundraiser, then volunteer, director and ironically now cancer survivor! It is tough to put into words what First Descents does that other organizations cannot. FD gives a renewed hope and a sense of accomplishment that is robbed from some people that have had cancer. Cancer makes you realize the magnitude of which you rely on others....not just for self-definition....but mere existence! This camp taps into the inner core of each person who attends.....both camper and counselors alike. I can and have written long stories all about First Descents and what this camp is/can do! This place is a powerful and amazing experience that needs to be able to expand in order to touch lives of those who need it! I hope this helps scratch the surface of what an amazing camp this is.

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents was an incredible experience and I highly recommend it to all young adult cancer patients. The staff was great, the kayaking was awesome and hanging out with other young adult cancer patients was something no one else could provide for me. This organization deserves our support because they truly are helping young adult cancer survivors.

9

Volunteer

Rating: 5

After my first week as a volunteer at First Descents I almost felt guilty that I had taken away so much from my time at camp. I was supposed to be helping the participants, young adults with cancer aged 18-34, and they ended up changing my life. The participants arrived at camp and immediately jumped into the FD programming. Most campers arrived at camp ready for anything. Others were guarded, shy and not so sure about the whole kayaking as treatment program. The best part was that they all left empowered and ready to deal with whatever life had to hand them. They have inspired me to appreciate my life, not sweat the small stuff and most importantly, raise as much money for First Descents as possible. Over the past two years my husband has raised almost 200K for First Descents. Since my week at camp, I have taken on a number of admin. jobs for FD that I can do from my home in Maryland. All the volunteering I do for them is better than any sales commission that I have ever received. The feeling of giving back to this amazing organization is indescribable. The impact First Descents has on its participants is truly unbelievable. I feel lucky to be a part of the FD family.

15

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has been one of the most meaningful experiences I have had since being diagnosed with cancer at 25. The experience was based on outdoor adventure and putting myself out there with others who have gone through what I have gave me so much hope and stregnth. Being surrounded by such positive energy and optimism and spirit was healing. First Descents made me whole again.

16

Client Served

Rating: 5

One of the most difficult parts of being diagnosed and treated for cancer as a young adult is the isolation experienced during and after the barbaric treatments we are forced to endure. As a three time cancer survivor, at the age of thirty, I have taken advantage of the programs offered by First Descents for two years, and will continue doing so as long as I am able. The sense of community amongst survivors, which is built at each camp create life-long bonds between those of us who understand what it is like to have had the rug pulled out from under us by a life-threatening illness. The support I have gotten from everyone I have met at camp keeps me motivated while kayaking, and throughout the year.

15 NoMo

Client Served

Rating: 5

May name is Richard Harvey. I am a 4 year brain cancer survivor and I count my 2008 First Descents Whitewater Kayaking Camp as one of most empowering, exciting and beautiful experiences of my adult life. First Descents’ mission is to help young adult cancer survivors recover their sense of physical and mental wellness. I arrived at camp grateful that they had provided my camp experience free of charge. I was going to get to do something I never would have been able to afford do or to set up on my own. When we arrived, First Descent leadership gave all of us new campers nicknames; one’s with attitude like Slick, Carney and for me NoMo (for NoMo Chemo Man). It was a signal that now it was time for each of us to find the can-do rough-and -tumble personas going through cancer had beaten down in us. Each new day at a First Descents Camp meant a new level of challenge for me. The ample professional staff to camper ratio ensured my safety and success. Many of the staff members were volunteers from the medical and kayaking communities. I was grateful for their loving support and the sense of stewardship for the sport that they love that they engendered in us campers. The leadership at my camp went to inspiring lengths to accommodate the varying levels of physical wellness and coordination in the group of survivors at my camp. I learned about the beauty of being on the river. I learned that kayaking is a great way to be with nature without causing any damage. I never would have guessed on the first day of camp what I was capable of doing by the end. I have shared information about First Descents with anyone who was willing to listen as I attended brain tumor conferences this year because I believe this program is truly transformative for young adult survivors. I am grateful I will be back for another camp in 2009.

11

Volunteer

Rating: 5

First Descents was first brought to my attention in Vail, CO and I was an admirer from the sidelines. Little did I know it would be part of our daughter's experience a little over a year ago! Since then my husband and I volunteered at a hugely successful fund raiser, meeting the founders Brad and Corey who are totally committed and the coolest guys on the planet. FD was empowering, rewarding, a learning and teaching experience, humbling, and positive in a world which was being viewed negatively because of the cancer diagnosis.

14

Client Served

Rating: 5

When I learned I had cancer, I felt completely out of control. I felt my body was not my own. Doctors knew more about my body than I did. Doctors would inject me with poison. I felt out of control. And then? My brother and friend convinced me to go to a First Descents Camp. One of the most incredible feelings of my life was finally learning how to roll the kayak (from upside down in the water to right-side up above water). I had been underwater, unable to breathe or see, about to freak out...then I collected my thoughts, moved my body and my paddle in the precise right way, and BOOM. I was up. I could breathe. I could see. I had done it. I was safe and heading down the river. I was back in control of MY body. My FD experience was absolutely incredible. I can't imagine healing so intensely any other way.

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

I think a big part of having cancer as a young adult involves trying to let the world know that you are still a normal 20-something. For me that meant pretending cancer never happened or that it had no impact on my life. FD was such an amazing experience because it allowed us all to feel like perfectly normal 20-somethings that happened to be cancer survivors. First descents let me open up and assess the impact cancer really had on me and talk about it with other survivors without feeling like my life was a pity party.

11

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents is wonderful nonprofit that helps to fill a niche for young adults that have had cancer. The kayaking is great with one-on-one guides and amazingly healthy foods. I appreciate the opportunity to meet other young survivors! Brad and Corey, co-founders are pure geniuses!