Tenant Spotlight: First Descents

Posted on November 20, 2015 by Haley Sangster.

I got to sit down with Jenna Catalona, the Marketing Manager at First Descents to learn more about their incredible company.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 1.56.22 PMHow do you describe what First Descents does?

We provide life changing outdoor adventures for young adults 18-39 impacted by cancer. These adventure programs help young adults heal emotionally and physically from their diagnosis.

How did the company begin?

It started in 2001 and we are actually about to celebrate our 15 year anniversary. Our founder Brad Ludden was a professional kayaker growing up and when he was 17, his aunt was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. He felt helpless and wanted to find a way to cheer up his aunt and the other people from her cancer center. He decided to take them to the river and taught them how to kayak. And the rest is history!

How would a person apply to be involved with the program?

We have an online application process for cancer fighters and survivors. It is on a first come, first-served basis. We lead trips in 12 states and 3 countries and our main activities are surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and trekking. They are between 7 and 9 day adventures. The first trip is completely free and we offer many scholarships to help with flight costs.


What is a day like in the First Descents office?

Everyone in the office is an extremely hard worker but there are always silly shenanigans happening. We are a small team serving over 400 people and want to get survivors and fighters into programs as often as possible. We are a really tight knit group of like minded individuals who love the outdoors. Although we all lead very healthy lifestyles, you will always find sugar somewhere in the office.

First Descents Office

What is the best thing about the people who work at First Descents?

I laugh everyday. My coworkers are truly the funniest and kindest people I know.  I have been with First Descents for 4 years and they have truly become a second family. Laughter is never in short supply in our office that is for sure!

I have heard lots about nicknames within your company, can you tell me a little bit more about that?

When young adults start our program, they often come feeling really low. Many have low self esteem or body issues so we decided to assign them nicknames so that they can take on a new identity for the week.  It empowers them to detach themselves from their cancer identity and take on a new, more badass identity. Within the first 5 minutes of meeting them, we try to pick a name out based on something we find out, whether it’s something about where they came from, their favorite sports team, what they are wearing, ect.

I hear that you guys all have nicknames as well! Can you tell me about how a couple of them came about?

“Peaches”- I bruise like a peach.

“Crash”- His first week of working, he was very quiet and we asked him to hang some railings for us but he kept knocking them over. We couldn’t help but name him Crash.

“Huddle”- Her great grandfather actually invented the football huddle!

What is First Descents proudest moment?

This year we have served more young adults than in the history of the organization. Our number one goal is to reach as many people as possible and to help them heal, and the fact that we have touched more lives than ever before is so exciting to us.

What is the best trip you have been on?

I got to paddle the Main Salmon River in Idaho with a group of 15 young adult survivors. We kayaked 80 miles and it was only my second time ever in a kayak. The views were absolutely beautiful, the people were incredible, and it was such a moving and bonding experience.

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If someone wanted to get involved with the company, how could they?

Go to our website, that is the best place to get more information.  We have something called the Outliving it Project that is a great way to get involved. The more money we raise, the more people we can serve. You can host a fundraiser, donate money, or volunteer for programs and local events. All of the guidelines can be found online at The biggest thing people can help with is just spreading the word about what we do. We want to get as many fighters and survivors involved as we possibly can.