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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

30 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Client Served

Rating: 5

My husband and I were able to receive scholarships to attend FD's first couples retreat. Since I went through cancer when our relationship was still in the very early stages (he was just my boyfriend) it was very helpful and empowering to be around other couples with the same issues we struggled with. I did great on the white water kayaking. It was a great bonding experience for me and my husband. I think it was a great way not only to boost my self confidence but to reassure him that I was ok. FD cooked all homemade meals family style while we were there. There were so many WONDERFUL volunteers with the organization and this trip. We had an ER doctor that came down the river with us on his day off, the kayak enthusiasts who enlisted their friends to loan their boats for the week, etc.

Client Served

Rating: 5

I haven't felt so alive in a long time!! You start to think the world actually only consists of what you're experiencing, like surgeries or uncertainty or loss... but then you taste mountain air and spider up a rock face and remember THERE IS SO MUCH MORE LIFE TO BE LIVED.

13

Client Served

Rating: 5

I was a participant in one of the FD kayaking programs last summer. It changed my life. I'll never forget the connections I made with other survivors and one day I hope to be able to give back to this great organization that has given me so much!

21

Client Served

Rating: 5

Cancer taught me about death. First Descents taught me how to live. Most valuable week of my life. I hope many others will be able to attend and benefit as I did.

20

Client Served

Rating: 5

This program is amazing. As a benefactor of a wonderful week kayaking in Montana near Glacier National Park, I can highly recommend this program. A huge part of what makes it so great is the amazing volunteer staff. I know that this organization spends it's money wisely on providing wonderful experiences for cancer survivors. As someone said, "This is a cancer camp that's not about cancer." It's about amazing experiences, challenging yourself to do something difficult and sometimes scary, and making great friends along the way.

18

Client Served

Rating: 5

Magical. Energizing. Peaceful. Challenging. Loving. First Descents ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite experiences. The moment I stepped off the plane and met my fellow FDers, it felt like a family. I was amazed at the instant trust each one of the campers had in the volunteers and counselors. FD gives you an opportunity to be out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in the midst of the most beautiful spots in the country. Because of my experience with First Descents, I even more grateful for my second chance at life.

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

I took my First Descent in June 2008, and it was an experience that would forever change my life. In August 2004, at 32 years of age, my carefree world as I knew it was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. For the next 7 months, I battled this disease with every ounce of strength I had. I easily coasted through my treatments and surgeries never imagining that the period following my cancer treatment would be so difficult. For months afterwards, I struggled to find my “new normal”. I felt that I had missed out on so much as I watched my friends around me move up in their careers, get married, and have children. I often felt I had no one to turn to, no person who would understand how I really felt. And then there was the constant fear of mortality... In June 2008, I boarded a plane to a First Descents camp in Montana with many reservations. To my surprise, my reluctant decision to attend was one of the the best decisions I ever made! For the first time since I was diagnosed, I did not feel different or pitied. I was challenged to do things that I thought I could never do. I learned the true beauty of humankind through the volunteers I met. I took a little piece from each camper that to this day continues to inspire me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself again. I returned home happy, empowered, and part of a whole new family. Thanks in grand part to First Descents, I was finally able to close my "cancer" chapter. No more pity parties for me!! I have since completed a half-marathon, learned how to snow ski, continued my travels, and returned to the "social scene". My wonderful medical team in Miami may have cured me physically, but First Descents mended my battered heart and soul.

8

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents was amazing experience. I was able to conquer my fears, meet new people, and do things I never thought was possible. It allowed me to focus on things other than my cancer. But, it also allowed me to joke about cancer with people who understood where I was coming from. I believe that FD is one of the best things that I have ever done. I am lucky to have been able to participate in such a great program.

5

Client Served

Rating: 5

First Descents has a unique offering of adventure which bring together young adults. Together we face our fears and take on bigger challenges each day. Without the forces walls of a therapy room or hospital, the conversations naturally occur. The friendships are life-long and the new found confidence is amazing. First Descents is the best thing to come from my cancer experience. FD offers well structured programs, with highly qualified staff. The amount of care put into our safety is amazing. Thank you FD!!!

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

It was amazing to see what happened when two of my worlds collided. The experience was surreal as I met people whose passion for nature was shared with people who truly understand the need to live for the moment. I saw one group inspired because the other group showed them that there was nothing wrong with living life for the moment. I saw the other group inspired by being shown how. It was the first time in my life I was able to be with survivors, face to face, in a place that encouraged deep conversation.

7

Client Served

Rating: 5

I recently returned from my second camp. Cancer is many things but two things that come to mind are that it is limiting and it is a betrayal. I face physical limitations, such as fatigue and poor balance, that limit my world compared to before being diagnosed. Others may have lost their fertility, limbs or bear other physical and emotional scars. Beyond that, cancer is a betrayal; our body is literally killing itself and acts in ways that defy sense. First Descents is the anti-dote to all of this. While there are many things I can't do compared to my pre-cancer self, one thing I can do is kayak. And to learn something that requires physical exertion and balance, has given me a newfound confidence that is difficult to explain. While my physicians prevented me from dying (for which I am incredibly grateful), FD helped teach me how to live.

2

Client Served

Rating: 5

This was my second full week experience with First Descents (FD). As a returning camper to their adult cancer survivors kayak camp, I expected nothing but a memorable experience - and I was not disappointed! FD provides adults with both a physical and emotional experience by connecting them with other adult survivors in a comfortable environment. Between the kayaking, the food, staff/volunteer support, and the sharing of personal triumphs and struggles - you almost forget it cost your health to attend. By connecting with more survivors and mixing in an activity that some of us would never have encountered on our own, FD has created the perfect blend for adults to rejuvenate and inspire.

9

Client Served

Rating: 5

I recently returned from my first week with First Descents. It was life changing! I met some of the most amazing people in my life that week, campers and staff included. I loved the adventure of kayaking but mostly enjoyed being surrounded by people filled with strength, courage and an abundent willingess to live life to the fullest. FD creates an atmosphere that is unrivaled! The Ludden family is amazing for creating this opportunity for young cancer survivors and I hope to do my best to assist them in furthering their efforts and to continue to experience First Descents for years to come!

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.

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.

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.