In 2007, a group of kayakers in Georgia organized a community field day with local children to help strengthen their passion for the outdoors. That day brought forth an outpouring of unwavering support, helping strengthen ties between paddling, the local community and like-minded organizations. This led to the conception of Paddle4Tomorrow.
Paddle4Tomorrow is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that’s proud partners of industry titans like the American Canoe Association and Leave No Trace. Nearly 15 years later they continue to help youth develop self-confidence, promote tolerance and understanding, and an appreciation for the environment. Their fun and sustainable activities have enriched the lives of kids across Georgia and brought them closer to nature. We had an opportunity to chat with Paddle4Tomorrow (P4T) Board Member Tony Narcisse about who P4T and what else they hope to achieve in the near future.
Could you provide some more background on how P4T came to be?
P4T was founded by local paddlers and kayak fishermen in an unplanned meeting by myself and a police officer that was running the Police Athletic League (PAL) program in a local Atlanta suburb. PAL is a youth outreach mission to help children develop healthier activities and avoid some of the pitfalls that some youth face. After a quick discussion, we agreed that a paddling event for the PAL kids would be a great idea.
The first event was a kayaking and fishing event on a local lake. We discovered the kids loved it, along with the officers and volunteers.
Today, our focus has returned to our roots; the youth. Our programming is targeted to help kids around the ages of 10 to 12.
What’s the mission and vision for P4T?
Our mission is to connect children of all backgrounds to each other and the outdoors.
We believe it is the disconnect between people and the planet that is the root source of the two most pressing challenges of our time; how we treat each other and how we treat the planet.
By being exposed to children that come from different walks of life, and combining those introductions with nurturing and exciting outdoors experience(s), those connections can become the basis for a life-long appreciation of the outdoors. It also helps foster a deeper sense of respect for others.
Our mission is best expressed through our marquee event we call “Hike ‘n’ Paddle” – which we host two times a year.
What events are scheduled for the rest of 2022?
We just completed our first Hike ‘N’ Paddle of the year last month!
Our Fall Hike ‘N’ Paddle will be on October 8, 2022. Between those two events, we’ll partner with the Chattahoochee RiverKeeper and Georgia Audubon on two upcoming events; June 25th (this Saturday) and September 10th, called the Water Warriors Wander & Wander.
We also have an event we support, Georgia Special Olympics Kayaking Invitational, on September 17th. We introduced kayaking to Special Olympics Georgia in 2009 and have partnered with them ever since.
Do you have any anecdotes or fun stories from any P4T runs or events?
Our history has always included folks with a wide range of abilities, including those with physical or mental challenges. I’m reminded of a parent who insisted we wouldn’t have much success getting his son in a kayak as he didn’t like the sensation of water on his skin.
Of course we were sensitive to that and gently encouraged participation only as he felt comfortable, with as much assistance as we could provide. That assistance included entering a kayak without having to touch the water.
As time went by, the young man grew to really enjoy kayaking, much to the surprise of his parents. One day we were on the lake practicing for the upcoming invitational, and witnessed something that caught us all by surprise. The young man that never enjoyed the feeling of water touching him purposely flipped his kayak and dunked himself!
Once he got back to shore safely, we asked what compelled him to do that, given his previously discomfort with water. “The water feels good,” he said. We knew at that moment a new waterman had been born.
What does the future look like for P4T in terms of particular goals & hopes?
We hope to continue to grow. As a small, all-volunteer non-profit, we can provide programming to 100 young people a year. We’d love to expand our work, because every child deserves that boost to their self esteem, a chance to connect with children from other walks of life, and to have a chance to fall in love with the outdoors.
We thank Watershed Drybags for sharing our mission and story. If our work resonates with you, our kids would love for you to join us: https://www.paddle4tomorrow.org/join us
Paddle4Tomorrow is recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Donations are tax deductible.
What’s your favorite part about working with P4T?
Most of our youth participants have never been to a lake or a river, so you can imagine that many start the day with some ambivalence about getting in a kayak. Even so, we are proud to say that we’ve never had an event where every child didn’t kayak (with parent/guardian approval).
When a child moves from “I can’t” to “look at what I can do!”, that sense of accomplishment is felt by everyone. Helping a child take early steps in realizing they can be or do anything they choose, is the most rewarding feeling for us as volunteers.
God willing and the creeks don’t rise, P4T will be here for children of all backgrounds for a very long time.
Watershed Drybags fully supports Paddle4Tomorrow and their vision, because we know the profound effects that exposure to outdoor sports and activities has on people. We hope to help inspire a future generation of leaders and stewards who amplify the importance of having a connection with the outdoors, and the significance it has on youth development!
Here’s to the future of river-riders.