Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Spreading the Magic

Four walls, a roof, some donated boats, and a patch of state land.

Mix in some passionate volunteers, and the result is thousands of changed lives. This is the reality that exists on the shores of India Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island, where the Community Boating Center has flourished since its humble beginnings in 1994. Over 800 local children pass through its doors each year, most of them arriving to experience boating (of any kind, let alone sailing) for the first time.

The Roadshow arrives at CBC in Providence

CBC's mission is simple. It exists to give every resident of Providence (especially children), regardless of income, access to the Ocean State's most precious commodity: the water itself.

At the invitation of CBC Executive Director John O'Flaherty, Brooke and I were privileged to take part in this worthy effort for a day. Leading boatloads of kids from an after-school program on harbor tours, we were struck by how their vision of their own hometown changed so dramatically after just a short time on the water. Many lived only a few blocks away, but had enjoyed little, if any, contact with the ocean growing up.

Many did not even know that the city had a port. This was vividly demonstrated to them by the presence of a tanker vessel, docked just a few hundred yards away, that hailed from the tiny and distant Mediterranean island of Malta.  Other wonders included tugboats of every description, an old schooner, and even the rusted hulk of a submarine. Dramatically framing all of this were the tall office buildings that make up the skyline of Providence. Even though their bus trip from school had lasted only minutes, it was clear that many of the students felt like they were in a whole new city.

These kids were not only still in Providence, but, in a way, still in the classroom. Much like their DCSail counterparts down south, the instructors at CBC link sailing concepts to overarching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) themes. While sailing classes already have many benefits on their own, such as in the areas of self-confidence, responsibility, teamwork, fitness, and problem-solving, the addition of STEM makes them that much more dynamic. Through sending their kids to sail at CBC, several local schools have found an unmatched pathway for getting kids engaged and excited in these often troublesome subjects.

When standing in the yard at CBC and observing all of the bustling activity around you, it's hard not to feel optimistic about the future of the sport. There, at India Point Park, lies abundant evidence of the near-universal appeal of sailing, and all of the positive side effects it can have.

Best of all, the same magic is eminently exportable to new cities, and new centers. All you have to do is find the will, as a determined group in Providence did seventeen years ago.

After that, watch out. You just might enrich a few hundred lives before you realize it.


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