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Red Kayak Institute: In the News

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Red Kayak Institute Helps with Healing

mySuburbanLife.com Article

August 5, 2015 | By Evan Shields – eshields@shawmedia.com

Mary Anne Smrz - RKI helps with healing

Westmont resident Mary Anne Smrz founded the Red Kayak Institute after experiencing grief in her life. She found being on the water helps to deal with her pain.

WESTMONT – Through water-based therapy a Westmont nonprofit is helping people who may be in the same boat with grief or addiction issues.

Mary Anne Smrz, a Westmont resident, founded the Red Kayak Institute based on her own experiences.

“About six or seven years ago, I had gone through a period of significant grief … and I found a lot of healing out on the water,” she said.

She thought it would be great to share her experiences with others who might be going through a difficult time. Smrz talked with the Edward Hospital and Health Services Cancer Center in 2013 and was able to set up a retreat with cancer survivors. The Edward Cancer Center has money to help with this type of program, but that is not typically the case.

“As I explored around, I realized a lot of people didn’t have budgets for this type of thing,” Smrz said.

That’s when she decided to start Red Kayak Institute as a nonprofit in 2013. Red Kayak now takes groups out on the water for either a half-day or full-day experience at Saganashkee Slough in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Josette Szalko, executive director of the Red Kayak Institute, said they’ve helped cancer survivors, women struggling with addiction and people coping with grief. She knew almost immediately the benefits of the group would be tremendous.

“When we did the first one [outing] with those cancer survivors, we knew we were on to something,” she said. Szalko said she has known Smrz personally for more than 20 years. Smrz asked Szalko to come aboard when she started the nonprofit.

Szalko said she didn’t hesitate when asked to join. She said Smrz’s passion, depth of caring, thoughtfulness and insight were all positives that made her want to join.

“She is a person that just exudes this energy you just feed off of,” she said.

Smrz said the overall response has been “fabulous,” and outings have grown year after year.

“We’ve gotten some great feedback. A lot of people, after going out on the water with us, they go out and buy their own kayaks,” she said.

The Red Kayak Institute will be the beneficiary of a community giving day on Aug. 11 at the Whole Foods, 201 63rd St., Willowbrook. Smrz said the nonprofit will receive 5 percent of all proceeds that day, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. She will also be at the store to talk about what the Red Kayak Institute does.

westmont_frontpage westmont_story

It All Comes Right on the Water

NC State University Philanthropy Journal Article

August 3, 2015 | By Staff of Red Kayak Institute

Mary Anne Smrz

Mary Anne Smrz, Founder

When a novice kayaker writes, “I was truly able to calm my thoughts and worries,” the staff of Red Kayak Institute fulfills its mission. Mary Anne Smrz established the Red Kayak Institute to help individuals facing life challenges. Six years ago, when caught in a cycle of grief, Mary Anne kayaked as much as her hectic lifestyle allowed. Paddling in silence helped her reclaim a sense of balance and serenity. Because of the healing she experienced on the water, Mary Anne realized others could reclaim themselves as well.

She began to encourage others to push away from shore. Three years ago with the help of a professional kayak outfitter and support from social workers, she organized a retreat for cancer survivors. Because they were so impressed at that event, some women bought their own kayaks. Amazing feedback from others in the group encouraged Mary Anne to explore other possibilities. Since the first retreat, RKI held two more retreats for cancer patients also graced with the participation of caregivers.

This year, RKI is facilitating a six-part retreat program for women who are actively participating in 12-step recovery. The pilot program, called Recovery on the Water, applies the 12-principles originated in Alcoholics Anonymous, within the structure and philosophy of RKI mission. Attendees are the same women for all sessions. They have committed to regular post-paddle feedback. Immediate results are demonstrating patterns of increased self-awareness and spiritual growth on both individual and group levels. The continuity of the study and analysis of consistent response over multiple sessions is anticipated to provide a foundation for future retreat series.

rki-logoStaff of RKI also collaborated in a fundraising event with Mother McAuley High School in Chicago, Illinois, helping to raise over $4000 for the Jan Malloy Memorial Scholarship Fund. A Development Department retreat this summer for McAuley staff focused on team building as they work tirelessly to build alumnae relationships and raise funds to advance the work of their educational institution.

Next September, RKI will conduct a Leadership Academy retreat in northern Wisconsin for potential partners and others interested in helping the organization expand. A similar event held in Prescott, Arizona, last February successfully cultivated support. Plans for the future include collaboration with nonprofit groups in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Phoenix, Arizona, working with victims of domestic abuse. Staff is also exploring the possibility of working with The Wellness House in Hinsdale, Illinois, which helps cancer survivors, their families, and provides grief and bereavement support.

The RKI mission is simple: “Introducing people facing challenges to the healing benefit of kayaking. Just add water.” When participants get out of their comfort zone into a kayak, the simplicity of the boat and silence on the water also takes them on an inward journey. One cancer survivor admitted she has always been afraid of the water. Although she is in her sixties, she has never overcome that fear, but when she received training and support at an RKI retreat she said, “Words cannot begin to express my gratitude to you both for arranging this kayaking outing…  it was truly an amazing experience… as you know, I went way out of my comfort zone on this one and enjoyed every minute of it.”

RKI Training

RKI Training

Staff plans a couple more outings to this season’s Midwest schedule which winds down mid-October and then will explore opportunities to expand to a winter season in Arizona, beginning with a February retreat. It’s been an incredible year of growth as they continue to build programs and a larger corps of volunteers. Currently they measure the number of people who purchase kayaks after a retreat, the number of repeat paddlers in the cancer paddles and the number of times individuals go out on the water after a retreat experience. From post-paddle sharing and follow-up questionnaires, Recovery on the Water appears to offer an additional tool for those seeking ways to grow through the 12-step recovery. As a group and as individuals, there has been recognition that the gradual transformation that results from taking 12-step actions can be directly correlated to the healing benefits of RKI actions. Both relate to the “psychic change … a profound alteration in his (sic) reaction to life.”[i]

As RKI builds its programs, measuring success will become easier. Participants answer post-event questionnaires, offering suggestions and observations for future paddles. Expanding the retreat schedule will allow RKI to gather more information. Most importantly, time and again participants demonstrate the intangible value of kayaking—often in amazing ways. For example, a woman, processing grief over the loss of her father 22 years ago, cried like she had never done before. And a husband and wife explored their survivor/caregiver relationship, learned about each other’s cancer journey and helped each other go forward. A self-employed businessman, who recently lost a major account, found his kayak kept turning around but reframed it as a message not to let a setback turn him around. He decided not to worry and in 3 weeks, his business also “turned around.” In their testimonials, people say, “It was calming, which I really needed.” Or I “Felt at peace with myself.”

In our fast paced, technology driven life, RKI teaches the importance of “the pause,” taking time out to reconnect with oneself, others and with nature. Kayaking allows people the space and time to process things they have buried beneath the surface. After time spent on the water, RKI facilitates a group sharing. They pass around a little red kayak and when someone holds it, shares what he or she experienced on the water.

Research supports how people need to connect to nature to maintain balance and clarity in their lives. Richard Louv wrote The Nature Principle, which addresses a concept he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. Masaru Emoto has published extensive research and written many books on water crystals and the healing properties of water, in which he refers to the true power of water as HADO – Healing And Discovering Ourselves.

The work at the Red Kayak Institute is also the work of souls—often hard to measure in numbers or statistics, but relevant to the lives changed by time on the water. They have a saying at the Institute: “It all comes right on the water.” Testimonials of lives changed, insights gained and the healing that takes place shows they are making a difference, one drop at a time.

Red Kayak Institute is a nonprofit whose mission is helping people facing life challenges to reclaim themselves. Founder Mary Anne Smrz is an avid kayaker who uses insights gained on the water to enrich the lives of others.

[i] Spiritual Experience – Appendix II, from page 569, Alcoholics Anonymous

 

Red Kayak Institute and Edward Cancer Center Retreat

Brian Lewis Helps Cancer Survivors Launch Kayaks. (Posted by obtener33, Community Contributor)

Chicago Tribune Article

June 17, 2015 | By Community Contributor obtener33

This month the Red Kayak Institute held the third annual kayak retreat for Edward Cancer Center survivors and caregivers at Saganashkee Slough Forest Preserve. Social workers from Edward Cancer Center invited patients and caregivers who could benefit, and equipment from TheKayakers.com made the event possible. The goal was to help individuals facing life challenges ‘reclaim’ themselves. Several of patients had just reached the end of active cancer treatment. At first, the event functioned like a support group, and each person shared his or her reasons for coming. Participants were asked to find ‘answers’ in the boat and come back after paddling to share what they discovered. Then Mary Anne Smrz, founder of the Red Kayak Institute, invited them to lighten emotional burdens by tossing pebbles over the side of the kayak. In this way she made paddling into a metaphor for wellness. People pushed away from shore thinking about what they hoped to gain. First timers took to the water as if they had been paddling a long time. After two hours on the water, they were reluctant to come back in. One participant described the experience this way, “Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful experience. The sponsors and everyone were so inviting and comfortable to be around. I loved my first experience as a “kayaker” and can’t wait to do it again. I understand why people love it. I felt the experience was very spiritual, empowering and invigorating. I believe that we all can benefit from such an event.” Edward Cancer Center’s social workers offer a number of retreats and support groups, designed to help individuals deal with a cancer diagnosis. The success of the kayak event revealed the healing benefits of nature. A few hours on the water helped individuals reclaim a sense of control lost to disease. As a group they learned to, “step into the flow and then let go.” Brian Lewis of TheKayakers.com trained a diverse group of individuals, some novices, and properly fitted their equipment. During the training session and launch, he ensured kayakers had a safe experience. By the end of the kayak retreat, paddlers had tossed “problems” overboard. Paddling helped them find words to define the kind of life they want to live. They chose a beautiful, cool June morning to nurture body, mind and spirit. In the process they learned how to appreciate being on the water as a way to reclaim themselves. For More Information about Kayaking Adventure Trips, Classes & Rentals visit The Kayakers.com. Red Kayak Institute was established by Mary Anne Smrz in early 2013 and officially incorporated as a charity in the State of Illinois in September 2013. Contact them at PO Box 98, Westmont, IL 60559; info@paddlinon.com; (844) 733-5295, http://www.paddlinon.com/red-kayak-institute/. Edward Cancer Center is part of Edward Hospital & Health Services, 801 S. Washington, Naperville, IL, 60540, (630) 527-3000, http://www.edward.org/cancer.

 

Red Kayak Institute Joined the DuPage Human Race

Red Kayak Institute, Inc. raising money to help women facing challenges. (Posted by obtener33, Community Contributor)

Chicago Tribune Article

May 8, 2015 | By Community Contributor obtener33

Saturday, April 25th, Red Kayak Institute participated in Giving DuPage’s 4th Annual DuPage Human Race. The Human Race® is a community event and fundraiser that benefits over 50 non-profit organizations serving DuPage County. Weather on race day provided RKI participants with a challenge, but conditions worked in their favor as their participants “paddled” through the cold and rain to a rewarding finish line. Red Kayak Institute provides programs geared toward women facing challenges or “transitions” – physical or emotional – who benefit from time on the water and the healing benefits of nature. These life transitions may include illness, losing a loved one, or facing an addiction. RKI reports raising $2,000 from the Human Race event. Participants created interest about their cause with Mary Anne’s little red kayak and paddles in hand during the race. Thank you to RKI friends who participated in the DuPage Human Race or made a donation to the effort, especially the runners/walkers who heard the storm that Saturday morning and still came out race. Their extra effort was inspiring. Special thanks as well to Great Lakes Apparel http://www.greatlakesapparel.com/ for their generous donation of our Red Kayak Institute shirts. Mary Anne Smrz established Red Kayak Institute, incorporating it as a charity in the State of Illinois September 2013. Contact them at PO Box 98, Westmont, IL 60559; info@paddlinon.com (844) 733-5295, http://www.paddlinon.com/red-kayak-institute/.

 

Red Kayak Institute Raises Scholarship Money

JoAnn Foertsch Altenbach, Mary Anne Smrz & Linda Balchunas Jandacek

JoAnn Foertsch Altenbach, ’76 Annual Fund, Mother McAuley High School; Mary Anne Smrz, Red Kayak Institute; and Linda Balchunas Jandacek ’84 Alumnae Coordinator, Mother McAuley High School (Posted by obtener33, Community Contributor)

Chicago Tribune Article

September 19, 2014  |  By Community Contributor obtener33

On September 7, 2014, Mary Anne Smrz, Founder of the Red Kayak Institute, facilitated a retreat at Saganashkee Slough in southwest Cook County. In two different sessions that day, Red Kayak staff raised $3350 for the Jan Malloy Scholarship Fund at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. The first kayak retreat began at 7 a.m., and the second group gathered at 11:30 a.m. Before participants launched, Brian Lewis from TheKayakers.com, gave kayaking and safety instruction. Smrz then facilitated programs that helped paddlers reconnect with nature as a way to reclaim themselves. When kayakers launched onto the Slough in the Palos Preserves of southwest Cook County, they experienced the physical, mental and spiritual healing powers of nature during a two-hour silent paddle. Group discussion circles, ending each session, opened new doors to health, creativity and wonder. The Jan Malloy Scholarship Fund for Spirit and Community Service was established to honor Jan Malloy, former Alumnae Coordinator at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. Jan was an integral part of the Mother McAuley family and was a truly spirited Mighty Mac. The scholarship continues the legacy of service Jan exemplified throughout her life. Monies raised make a difference in the lives of Mother McAuley students who benefit from this award. Mary Anne Smrz established the Red Kayak Institute in early 2013. It is a 501(C)3 nonprofit, providing programs geared toward women facing emotional or physical challenges. Contact them at PO Box 98, Westmont, IL 60559; info@paddlinon.com; (844) 733-5295, http://www.paddlinon.com/red-kayak-institute/. For More Information about Kayaking Adventure Trips, Classes & Rentals visit The Kayakers.com.

 

Red Kayak Institute and Edward Cancer Center Retreat

Naperville Patch Articlenaperville-patch

June 9, 2014  |  By obtener33

This June three organizations came together to help cancer survivors and caregivers ‘reclaim’ themselves. Inspiration for the event started with Red Kayak Institute, which offers programs to individuals facing life challenges. Social workers from Edward Cancer Center invited patients and caregivers they knew could benefit, and equipment from TheKayakers.com made a kayak outing possible. Together these organizations offered more than a pleasant day outdoors. Their goal was to give patients and caregivers a chance to reclaim confidence lost to disease. To do that people, who already faced significant challenges, were asked to trust the journey. The challenges outfitter Brian Lewis of The Kayakers.com faced are the kind he enjoys solving: training a diverse group of individuals, some novices, and properly fitting their equipment. During the training session, he also gave encouragement. As 26 people launched, his promise was to guide kayakers safely to the exit point. Some of the patients have struggled with cancer for ten years or more, yet moments after the paddlers pushed away from shore transformation began. Most first time kayakers took to the water as if they had been paddling a long time. Others had some difficulty navigating shallow water and paddling around obstacles. But these were great life lessons to experience, helping them imagine the life they want to lead. The challenge for Mary Anne Smrz and staff of Red Kayak Institute was to get participants to trust the support being offered—and then trust themselves. Physical limitations threatened to hold a couple individuals back. Novices worried about making the journey, but Mary Anne established a threshold of trust. She spoke about the kayak as a simple vessel, one without room for nonessential items. She gave paddlers a small bag of rocks and encouraged them to use the rocks as symbols and, once on the water, to toss overboard anything that no longer served them. The tone she set allowed paddlers to understand they could ‘reclaim’ themselves. Edward Cancer Center’s social workers offer a number of other retreats and support groups, designed to help individuals deal with the burden of cancer. This is the second year Edward Cancer Center organized a kayak retreat. The success of these events showed the healing benefits of nature. A few hours on the water reopened a door to health. Social Worker, Sharon Kelleher indicated, “We were all there for a beautiful day on the river, but Mary Anne’s special touches challenged us to engage in contemplation and promised release and serenity.” By the end of the kayak retreat, paddlers had tossed “problems” overboard. Paddling helped them understand how to live the life they imagine. They chose a beautiful, cool June morning to nurture body, mind and spirit. In the process they learned how to appreciate being on the water as a way to reclaim themselves. For More Information about Kayaking Adventure Trips, Classes & Rentals visit The Kayakers.com . Red Kayak Institute was established by Mary Anne Smrz in early 2013 and officially incorporated as a charity in the State of Illinois in September 2013. The Institute is in the process of formalizing its status as a 501(C)3 nonprofit. Contact them at PO Box 98, Westmont, IL 60559; info@paddlinon.com; (844) 733-5295, http://www.paddlinon.com/red-kayak-institute/. Edward Cancer Center is part of Edward Hospital & Health Services, 801 S. Washington, Naperville, IL, 60540, (630) 527-3000, http://www.edward.org/cancer.