Warning: I am biased. Warning #2: This is good news. Offer: if you are tired of politics read on.
Four years ago I was given a close-up tour of Rocking the Boat with Easton friends. It is on the shores of the Bronx River, north of Manhattan. What we saw was remarkable and its founder Adam Green was rightly enthusiastic. We were so impressed that we introduced Robbie Gill, Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of the Chesapeake, to the program.
We saw a preponderance of Latino and African-American youth building classic wooden boats. On the occasion of a later visit, we joined with them in rowing up the Bronx River. We were the only ones on the River. My guess is that most that lived in the high-rises along its shores saw it principally as something that delayed traffic; bridges have that effect in big cities. They saw the river as an object, not as a waterway opening up a vast world of wonders to be explored and enjoyed.
Along with the boat builders were young people who were in Rocking the Boat as boaters, not builders. They were gaining an entirely different perspective as hundreds rowed or sailed in boats their peers had built. The Bronx River had become a source of recreation—restoration and preservation became important.
Now, four years later an update is timely. Inspired by what a number of community leaders who visited the program experienced, Easton’s YMCA has its own growing Rocking the Boat program, called Take the Helm. It too invites the distant to become personal as Take the Helm’s youth take to the water to row boats they have built and begin environmental programs. Youth have been going to YMCAs for 174 years, often to play sports or participate in after-school or camping programs, now there is one in Easton that offers a new kind of experience–an experience that offers important lessons in mathematics, tools, and through teamwork, character.
In the Bronx River, an initial environmental focus of Rocking the Boat was building a mussel reef. Mussels like oysters are filter feeders, and the river had plenty to be filtered. At Take the Helm, working in partnership with Shore Rivers, the initial environmental focus is litter and especially plastics that are fouling the waterways. Lessons learned from a boat, not a textbook.
This year Take the Helm brought over two hundred youth face-to-face with our creeks, rivers, and bays. An especially thrilling moment was the launch of the second classic Bay skiff (note picture).
Inspiration can be infectious; it made its way from the Bronx River to the East River to the Atlantic Ocean and back again into the bays and rivers of the Chesapeake watershed to the Tred Avon’s Easton Point, a stone’s throw from the Easton YMCA.
If you would like to learn more about Take the Helm, please visit here
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.