Saturday, October 23, 2021

Richmond 7th grader organizes kayaking event to raise money for Thanksgiving meals

Richmond 7th grader organizes kayaking event to raise money for Thanksgiving meals

Education Reporter


Seventh-grader and local whitewater kayaker Nathaniel Milligan is hosting “Kayak For a Cause” on Saturday. He and other participants will race down the James River to raise money and canned goods for needy families to have on Thanksgiving.

When it comes his birthday, Nathaniel Milligan doesn’t want presents. For years, he’s asked his friends to bring canned goods and other food that he can donate to the local food bank.

The 12-year-old Milligan’s record donation is about 1,000 pounds of food, he said, enough for more than 800 meals, according to the National FFA Organization. Now, he wants to combine his hobbies of kayaking and charity with the biggest food holiday of the year so needy families have a nice Thanksgiving meal.

Milligan has organized the “Kayak For a Cause” event, scheduled for Saturday at the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge. With other Richmond-area water lovers, Milligan will race down the James River on a course he’ll determine Monday to raise money and canned goods.

The donations will go to Albert H. Hill Middle School, where he’s a seventh-grade student, and other Richmond public schools.

“I’ve always liked the water and helping people, so it’s going to be fun,” Milligan said.

A Richmond native, Milligan got introduced to kayaking by a neighbor and takes annual trips down the James River on Father’s Day. He went to Passages Adventure Camp in Midlothian, which was filled with various outdoor activities, but one stood above the rest.

“They were fun, but all I wanted to do was go kayaking,” he said.

He’d always been attracted to water: swimming since he was 4 and doing it competitively — he loves the breaststroke — for NOVA of Virginia Aquatics since the age of 7. But kayaking brings a special thrill because of the raging rapids and self-control he has alone in the kayak, he said.

Two years ago, he got a kayak for Christmas, which only intensified his interest. His parents, Prudence and Patrick, got him the basics, but he’d have to pay for any other advanced gear himself.

So he took his family’s lawn mower and cut grass around the neighborhood, charging $20 per lawn, the same price as the entry fee for the slalom boating competition he’s now organized. Slalom boating requires racers to navigate a kayak or decked canoe through a course of river rapids as fast as possible.

Milligan, who has been whitewater kayaking with RVA Paddlesports for the past two years, got the idea to hold an event from a friend who raised money for heart screenings through a lacrosse game. He’d enjoyed collecting food to donate, either through his birthday parties or through his local church, and thought it would be a good idea to hold his own event.

The event is open to whitewater kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, canoers and rafters. The entry fee is $20, but also includes canned goods that will supplement a ham or turkey — Milligan’s favorite Thanksgiving dish. Spectators are also encouraged to bring food donations.

Milligan’s original goal was to raise $500, but the fundraiser has already passed that mark so he set a new goal of $1,000.

He smiled as he quickly calculated that $1,000 raised would feed 200 people — math is his favorite subject in school.

“It’s touching,” said Prudence Milligan, his mother. “He’s trying to help other people, and that’s just so cool.”

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