It’s a hot Wednesday evening in July and the sun is just low enough not to scorch, but still hot enough to corral us into the shade offered by a grove of tall pines on the shore Lake Julian.
Under the roof of a small park gazebo, canoe and kayak paddling expert Peter Van Gieson of Wolf Creek Adventures is arranging an assortment of Personal Floatation Devices (i.e. life jackets) of all sizes over the picnic tables as, one by one, Bigs are arriving with their Littles for the summer’s final “Canoeing on Lake Julian” group activity.
For the past six years, Van Gieson has donated his time, equipment and expertise to make this awesome canoeing series possible and FREE for Big Brothers Big Sisters matches, and each summer—the matches who build enough know-how during the Lake Julian lessons get to finish off the season with a trip down the French Broad River!
As everyone gets fitted in their PFD, Peter breaks down the difference between the purple and the red canoes (purples: hard to keep straight, reds: easy to keep straight) and reminds matches that the first course of action is to try to keep the boat straight (purple canoes were a less popular choice!), and once that’s mastered, there will be plenty of opportunities for maneuvering around.
Little Sister Tateonah and her Big Sister Laura, head for one of the Red Canoes and drag it down toward the water. For Tateonah, today isn’t just her first time participating in the Lake Julian activity—it’s her first time getting in a boat on any body of water!
Once all of the five canoes lined up on the shore, Tateonah quietly observes as Peter demonstrates how to properly board and disembark without capsizing or destabilizing your partner. And then the time comes for the Littles to wade into the water and hold the boats steady as their Bigs practice the pry and pull strokes. Tateonah is the first one out, grabbing the rope at the canoe’s bow and hanging on tight as Laura tries out some strokes.
Finally, after forty five minutes of safety and technique instruction, it’s time for everyone to get in the boats and take them for a spin.
Little Sister Nevaeh looking a bit mischievous as she tethers the canoe to the shore while her Big Sister Kim gets the hang of steering.Splashing. A few shrieks here and there. A few teeter-tottering canoes. But no capsizing—everyone is in and getting settled in their vessels.
For a while, Peter sloshes about in mucky shallows giving personalized instruction as the canoes collide and drift. But it doesn’t take long until these five Big Sister Little Sister matches are paddling off into the cove and the evening sunshine, weaving through buoys without any trouble.
Throughout the evening, these five Little Sisters learn new skills right alongside their Bigs Sisters. Together they laugh at their mistakes. The Littles’ faces beam as they see their abilities improve and discover new levels of self-confidence through trying something new.
Each season, Big Brothers Big Sisters enlists the help of community partners, including local businesses and individuals, who make it possible for us to offer enriching experiences that build match relationships and give Littles a chance to expand what they love to do and to discover what they’re capable of!
You can expand what’s possible for WNC’s youth by volunteering your time, making a donation—or perhaps your business or organization would like to partner with us to further enrich our group activity program.