FORT LORAMIE — Justine Porath, of Sidney, had never been in a canoe, so she was more than excited to give it a try, Friday, Oct. 19, at Lake Loramie State Park.
The wheelchair-bound 21-year-old is one of seven interns in Upper Valley Career Center’s Project Search, a one-year high school transition program for people with developmental disabilities. Interns rotate through several jobs at partner firms to discover what the jobs are like and to learn skills that will help them find real-world jobs when the program ends.
The interns took part in a day of outdoor activities here and enjoyed canoeing through Project Search’s partnership with Wilderness Inquiry, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based organization that “connects people … to the natural world through shared outdoor adventures.”
This is the sixth year that the Wilderness Inquiry Canoemobile program has put Project Search interns onto area waters, said Patti Moore, UVCC Project Search coordinator.
Porath wasn’t scared to take on canoeing.
“I was ready to do this,” she told the Sidney Daily News, Sunday. “I was surprised that it went really well. It was so much fun!”
In addition to canoe rides, facilitated by the Wilderness Inquiry crew who are trained to assist people with all kinds of disabilities, Moore said Friday’s events included team-building activities, rope games and a stretch zone exercise. Park rangers told participants about what is available to them in the state parks. For many, including Porath, it was their first visit to Lake Loramie.
In all, 45 people were involved in the program that day, including five current high school seniors who didn’t have school on Friday.
“They’re part of another Project Search program, National Health and Wellness, and they gave up their day off to help us go canoeing,” Moore said. Parents and grandparents of interns also were there, as were some Project Search alumni, who were excited to tell current interns about their permanent jobs.
Porath, a Sidney High School graduate, said she and the other five people in her canoe spent about an hour on the water, “enjoying the scenery around us.”
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the interns got to know each other, and project leaders got to know them.
“This is a great way to see what they’re made of,” Moore said. “What kind of problem solvers are they? How do they work in a team?” she asked rhetorically. “It gives me information for rotations of the future in my program with those business partners.”
Project Search, Moore added, is all about partnerships.
“This is exciting because through the Career Center, we have this program to help people between the ages of 18 and 22 who have been identified with a disability. This partnership allows these individuals training in a business setting, which better prepares them for competitive employment in their communities. And the outdoor program — I can totally depend on Wilderness Inquiry. What staff they bring are a bundle of energy. They are ready to meet my people where they are at. They have adaptive equipment,” Moore said.
The Wilderness Inquiry staff know how to assist everyone to get in and out of the boats with dignity.
“They help us be brave,” Moore laughed.
The canoes, themselves, are a way to touch history. Made of wood, they are much like Native American vessels. Wilderness Inquiry takes the canoes from coast to coast.
“Canoemobile is a floating classroom that brings students out on local waterways in 24-foot Voyageur canoes to learn about science, history, geography and culture. Our on-water experiences are often enriched with land-based learning activities developed and facilitated by organizations such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and hundreds of other government and nonprofits. Canoemobile brings classroom learning outside, engaging youth to improve school performance, cultivate a stewardship ethic and create pathways to pursue educational and career opportunities in the outdoors,” the Wilderness Inquiry website says. “From San Francisco to the Bronx, communities welcome Canoemobile to serve more than 30,000 youth and adults of all backgrounds and abilities each year.”
Other interns who participated in Friday’s activities were Jacob Balta, Austin Ham, Heather Hopkins and Katie Young, all of Sidney; Isaac Bensman, of Anna, and Christopher Eiler, of Piqua.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.