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First Descents
Program Pilot

In August 2018 First Descents will launch a pilot program for young adults coping with multiple sclerosis (MS).

We recognize this is something new for FD and might create some curiosity and raise some questions. If you do have questions, please see our FAQ’s below.


Is First Descents expanding to serve young adults impacted by other serious conditions?

With a vision to become the global leader in adventure-based healing, First Descents (FD) is excited to explore program expansion for other serious conditions that disproportionately impact young adults. This will be done intentionally and will not detract from the continued expansion of cancer programs.

Whoa, that’s big news! Where did this come from?

In 2016, CNN Heroes put First Descents on the world stage. Since then, FDHQ has received numerous requests from patient advocacy groups, medical centers, and other healthcare organizations inquiring how FD can help their patients. Many of these organizations are working with patients coping with a range of serious illnesses and other medical conditions that impact young adults. Anxiety, isolation, and depression are common side-effects for young adults who have had their lives turned upside down by an unexpected diagnosis or traumatic event. Our research shows how outdoor adventure and social connection help improve the quality of life for those coping with these side-effects.

Will First Descents continue its focus on serving young adults?

Yes. Our research and ongoing work with medical centers nationwide reinforces a lack of meaningful psychosocial supportive care services for young adults. First Descents will continue to lead the way in outdoor adventure programs for young adults and work diligently to fill this service gap.

What does this mean for cancer programs?

FD will continue to expand programs for young adults impacted by cancer. In 2018, FD aims to provide 1,270 unique experiences for young adults coping with cancer; this represents a 20% increase in participants served as compared to 2017.

By strengthening medical center partnerships, implementing a robust recruitment strategy, and investing in local adventure communities, FD’s oncology programs will continue to thrive.

Donors give to FD to support cancer programs. How is FD paying for programs that serve other illnesses?

If you make a donation to First Descents (thanks, you rock!), those funds are fully attributed to programs for young adults impacted by cancer. Programs serving young adults coping with similar side-effects resulting from other serious conditions will be funded with restricted giving from new supporters (i.e., all new money).

In the case of the MS pilot, our friends at Velocity Global have fully funded all costs associated with program design and implementation. They have also made important introductions to leaders within the MS Community.

Why is First Descents piloting a program for young adults with MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is often diagnosed as a young adult with symptoms progressing over time.

There are approximately 400,000 people living with MS in the United States with an estimated 10,000 new diagnoses annually. The average age of MS onset is 34 years old—a time of life when many are just finding their groove: finishing a Master's degree, having a family, buying a home, moving up the career ladder.

MS medical and program experts, as well as a generous new funding partner, have rallied to support this effort. Sometimes the stars align and guide the way!

All of these considerations make young adults coping with MS a suitable group to develop programs for.

First Descents knows cancer. How will FD be able to care for participants with MS?

FD has always relied on smart and caring healthcare professionals to advise its program design and implementation. Similarly, FD has enrolled the support of program and medical leaders from the National MS Society, CanDo MS, along with other leaders in the MS community to advise on MS program design, medical screenings, and participant recruitment.

FD currently arms its Lead Staff with training and oncology resources so to create a safe, supportive environment for participants regardless of their cancer diagnosis. FD recognizes there are special adaptive considerations for people coping with MS including temperature fluctuations, fatigue, and mobility restrictions, and will take a similar approach in ensuring its staff has the necessary tools available to deliver a meaningful and safe First Descents experience.

How can I get involved in FD’s new pilot MS program?

Thank you for your interest in First Descents’ pilot program for young adults coping with multiple sclerosis (MS). In order to ensure program and participant success, FD and its partners will be providing one pilot FD1 program in 2018 for a small number of participants coping with MS who will be selected through our existing partnerships. In the meantime please read our blog and sign up for our newsletter!

What is a pilot program?

A pilot is a small scale preliminary program conducted in order to evaluate feasibility, time, cost, adverse events, and improvements prior to the potential rollout of future activities.

The MS pilot will welcome 15 participants for a week-long whitewater kayaking program in Tarkio, Montana this August.

What happens after the pilot program?

You know we’re all about debriefing rad days on the water and rock (preferably around a campfire). FD will host a thorough debrief of the pilot program in addition to a series of focus groups to evaluate potential next steps, areas of improvement, and best practices.

Ongoing programming for young adults with MS will be conditional upon the success of the pilot program and the insights provided by focus groups.

Will MS participants join Local Adventure Communities?

The bonds made at First Descents are undeniable. Our community is strong because of shared experiences through adventure but also through the common connection of a cancer diagnosis. We understand this. We understand that there is value in being with a group that “gets it”. With this in mind, FD will take a deliberate and intentional approach to integrating participants with MS into our community in a way that does not dilute the experience or impact of oncology-specific programs.

I have more questions.

Please leave a message on our contact page at and the appropriate FD staffer will respond back in a timely manner.

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