Grand Canyon Youth Returns to the River

By Delaney Cook

Personal Ripples
When I meditate on the name of this blog and the effects of a ripple in water, the poetic nature of the sentiment rings true. Our work on the water with youth is the perfect metaphor for the ripple effect people can have on one another. Our first Grand Canyon Youth expedition of 2021 was no exception. As an alumna-turned-guide, my favorite thing about river trips has always been their power to create community. We began our San Juan River expedition together as strangers at Sand Island and ended the trip at Clay Hills with plans to remain in each others’ lives forever.


I came on my first GCY trip as a youth myself the summer after I graduated high school. The youth on this expedition reminded me of a time not too long ago when I stood in their shoes. One participant’s words of gratitude echo my own thankful thoughts after my first GCY trip. She writes:


What can I say to even closely represent my gratitude for everything you all have done? You have given us all life changing experiences that we will always remember. Thank you for becoming our friends, even if you just had to be our guides. We laugh, talk, reflect, and create amazing memories together. Even just floating down the river together, we all enjoy each other’s presence and that is a gift.
-Emma, 2021 Participant


As high school juniors and seniors in a recovering and constantly shifting world, these students are eager to embark on their unique journeys, but not without first having a culminating high school experience together.


The crew for the first trip of the season was composed of guides who were ecstatic to be out on the water with youth again after over a year apart. In many ways, not having a season in 2020 made the memories and connections we made this year feel so much more powerful, as we remembered the privilege of shared laughter beneath a river of stars in the sky. Each guide brought their wholeness and served a niche for youth’s individual needs. Another participant, Mei, echoes this sentiment:


Jak is always saying how grateful he is for us being here, and making sure we’re all safe. He is also insanely funny and kind. Delaney, oh my goodness, let me tell you… She cares about each and every individual on this trip and it truly shows. Hazel is a firecracker and is always down for adventure! If she sees that you’re down in the dumps it won’t last for long, because Hazel wants everyone to feel equal… Taylor is like the cousin you see every few years and you only get to see them for a few hours so they fill you in with every little thing that has happened within those years… He’s so rad and bubbly behind that resting blank face he fronts… Patrick is SO hilarious! I absolutely adore when people aren’t afraid to be themselves.


The youth themselves were a great inspiration to guides. I’ll never forget Frankie filling a Nalgene with cheerios and milk at Sand Island and confidently exclaiming, “Why wouldn’t it work?” and the tone of the “GCY-not spirit” was set before we shoved off the boat ramp. And it remained and multiplied as we gabbed and giggled downstream.


Youth Ripples

Thank you GCY! This trip has been so valuable to me because of all the hard work that you contributed. This place and these people make dreams come true.
-Cascadia, 2021 Participant

This year with COVID I feel like I haven’t been able to fully embrace (physically and mentally) the people around me. These types of opportunities are vital for my sense of being. Out here I have felt fully accepted and cared about just by being myself and nothing more.
-Gwen, 2021 Participant


I am grateful to have been permitted to realize how small I am. Thank you for giving us all the possibility to grow, to be changed by each other and where we are, to become something more than what we arrived as.
-Aiyana, 2021 Participant


Downstream Dreams

This trip embodies the word “support.” The GCY team has been wonderful throughout this entire experience. Never have I once felt unsafe or alone even though we are doing something out of the ordinary. I am forever grateful for this trip and these incredible people. The guides are all so so so amazing and I have unending reservoirs of respect and appreciation for them. That being said, we couldn’t have done any of this without the people behind the scenes. For that, I am so grateful. With Love from the deepest river,
-Eli, 2021 Participant


My downstream dream continues to be to make all youth feel comfortable, confident, and counseled on their journeys with us down the rivers of the Southwest. Safe travels to all downstream and keep making an impact in the waters of others’ lives by bringing your wholest, kindest, and fullest self to every moment, or you’ll never know how far your ripple can spread.


Delaney Cook is an alumna of Northern Arizona University with a B.A in Education. She spends time with youth in the classroom during the school year and time with youth on the waters of the Southwest in the summer as a guide. She owes her spirit, confidence, and deepest gratitude to Grand Canyon Youth which has changed her life. Pictured on the right with fellow GCY guide Sequoyah Gagnon.

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