By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two years ago, as a graduate student in the community counseling program at UNC Charlotte, Andrea Larrick and another grad student developed an idea to work with at-risk kids through the U.S. National Whitewater Center then planned for Charlotte.
In March, with the sponsorship of the Ballantyne Optimist Club, a nonprofit created by Larrick and known as Rise-N-Shine launched a 10-week pilot program serving 10 girls ages 12 to 15.
“We’re trying to give the children who participate in Rise-N-Shine a renewed sense of hope in the future and in new perspectives on how to look at their life and problems when they arise,” says Larrick, a trauma counselor for children who volunteers as the new nonprofit’s program director.
Rise-N-Shine aims to reduce risk and improve safety for children who have experienced violence, abuse, trauma or loss and, because of that experience, are more likely in the future to practice risk-taking behaviors such as promiscuity, drug use, delinquency or loss of hope.
“The need is huge,” Larrick says.
Each year, for example, over three million children in the United States are abused, neglected or exposed to domestic violence, while one in four children experience a traumatic event by age 16, Larrick says.
After raising $12,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Rise-N-Shine this year aims to raise $100,000 through a whitewater-rafting benefit race in October and through grants and individual donations.
For the benefit event, scheduled for Oct. 6 at the Whitewater Center at 820 Hawfield Rd. in West Charlotte, individuals can sign up and raise money by enlisting sponsors for their boats.
If it can raise enough money, Rise-N-Shine plans to offer its program in September to a group of 10 boys and a separate group of 10 girls, separating them because the issues they face can differ based on gender, Larrick says.
The Stratford Richardson YMCA and Urban Restoration, both in West Charlotte, refer children to Rise-N-Shine, which initially interviews them to make sure it can fit their needs.
Once a week, the children visit the Whitewater Center and participate in activities, like rafting or climbing walls, under the supervision of the nonprofit center’s staff.
After the activity, and a snack, the children participate in group counseling that ties the day’s activity to problems they may be facing.
If the day’s activity is whitewater rafting, for example, the discussion might focus on the types of traumas the children have faced, and how rafting relates to life.
Using metaphors, the counselors may liken teamwork in a boat to navigate rapids to “working together in life to work through hard things that may arise,” Larrick says.
The curriculum is based on “resiliency theory,” looking at how children can recover from difficult events they have experienced, she says.
Rise-N-Shine assesses the children before they participate in the program, and then tracks their progress during the program and after they complete it.
“By helping kids talk about their problems and how to solve them,” Larrick says, “they can recover and build self-esteem and confidence and trust.”