In this letter to the editor of Evanston Patch, Evanston Community Foundation president Sara Schastok writes about the Avi Kurganoff Memorial Fund, which supports outdoor adventures for kids.
Some months ago, Evanston residents Judy Mendel and Jorge Kurganoff lost their cherished son, Avi, after an accidental fall while attending the University of Vermont. The outpouring of support for their son has been both generous and spirited. While not yet 21 when he passed away, Avi, who was studying social work, economic development and the environment, impacted all lives he touched—and he touched many! Through the gifts made in his memory to the Evanston Community Foundation, a fund in his name has been established and we are pleased to announce that its first grant will fundThe Avi Adventure, a group camping experience for elementary school youth at Y.O.U. next spring or summer.
A glimpse of how Avi drew upon the challenges of white-water rafting shows just how and why this project is a fitting tribute. On a trip in January 2012 he said, "The biggest thing I learn from rivers is not to worry about things you can't control, and that's a big part of life ... There's so much out here you can't control, and there's so much out here you can control. You just kind of have to go with it and trust that you know what to do and how to do it. . . And the bond you build with people while you do it is pretty intense at times, pretty awesome and pretty epic. It's something I plan on doing for a very long time."
Judy and Jorge want to ensure that other Evanston youngsters can draw strength from their own adventures. As Y.O.U. staff envision the program, the Avi Adventure will bring together youth at Oakton and Washington elementary schools to learn about and experience the joy and power of the outdoors. Youth will spend one hour a week for eight weeks learning both hard and soft skills. Hard skills will include topics such as tying knots to help in making shelters, improving map reading skills, and learning about "Leave No Trace". Soft skills (social-emotional) will focus on values such as teamwork, inclusion, interdependence, along with understanding and accepting one another. The Avi Adventure will culminate in a camping experience where youth stay in tents by the Evanston lake shore and put to use what they have learned. A major theme throughout the program will be that both special relationships with others and a relaxed outlook on life can be derived from time spent appreciating the outdoors.
Y.O.U. will be partnering with McGaw YMCA Camp Echo, whose programs have been developing youth in the outdoors for nearly 90 years. The Camp Echo staff will provide support in teaching youth practical hard skills in preparation for a positive camping experience.
We wanted the community to know that thanks to so many of you, the Avi Kurganoff Memorial Fund at the Evanston Community Foundation will give other children adventures that might be as transformative for them as they were for Avi. As the years pass, the Fund will grow and expand its reach, but at the heart of it will remain the belief that kids are capable of changing, that skilled and compassionate social workers can support them, and that new settings, especially outdoor adventures, hold a special power for children to, as in Avi's own words, "believe enough in themselves to take risks and become positive leaders."
President and CEO, the Evanston Community Foundation