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Adam Green puts wind in the sails of inner-city students

Rocking the Boat works with young people challenged by economic, educational, and social conditions, helping them develop self-confidence and the skills needed to achieve their ambitions.

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    Adam Green goes for a sail with some of the students in his Rocking the Boat program. Students work together to build wooden boats, while developing skills like rowing and sailing, and learning about waterway conservation and community revitalization.
    Courtesy of Adam Green
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Adam Green has taken arts and crafts education to a whole new level.

In 1996, he founded Rocking the Boat, a Bronx, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization that blends youth empowerment and boat building. The organization works with young people challenged by economic, educational, and social conditions, and helps them develop self-confidence and the skills needed to achieve their ambitions.

Students work together to build wooden boats while developing skills like rowing and sailing, and learning about waterway conservation and community revitalization – all while learning marketable skills and gaining confidence.

“There is an opportunity at every phase of our training process,” says Mr. Green, whose desire to launch the program came from personal experience.

Green had taken a semester off during his studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., part of which he spent serving on the crew of a sailboat as an environmental educator. He enjoyed the process of teaching children about the environment, but the experiences weren’t long enough.

“I was frustrated that we only worked with them for three hours at a time,” he says.

Later he took that experience into the classroom, volunteering his time at an East Harlem, N.Y., junior high school over an eight-month period. During that time the students constructed their own wooden boat from start to finish.

“It was just a thrilling experience to see kids actually have a reason to learn things, and a reason to care about the things they were being taught,” he says, emphasizing the practical nature of boat building and the tangible rewards. “From there, the idea grew and grew.”

Green founded Rocking the Boat, and the organization has since developed into a fully sustainable nonprofit with an annual budget topping $1.9 million, serving nearly 3,000 young adults and members of the community each year.

Throughout the semester, youths participate in Rocking the Boat during the school day or through the intensive after-school program. Sessions encompass everything from lessons about the Bronx River to basic rowing techniques and boat safety lessons.

The after-school program – with two groups of 40 students who spent two sessions a week with Rocking the Boat – includes more hands-on boat building and repair projects as well.

“It is just a great sight to see” – youngsters participating in a variety of activities both on land and in the water, Green says.

The Rocking the Boat staff includes three licensed social workers who provide comprehensive support to the students, assisting with everything from social development to college applications.

While freshmen and sophomores spend most of their time learning the basics, juniors and seniors add job skills development, Green says. Program graduates enrolled in a college or trade school may be hired as part-time program assistants.

Green said that he enjoys every aspect of Rocking the Boat.

“I do it because it is amazingly fulfilling,” he says. “It feels really good to do this work and have the impact.”

Jennifer Galvin, vice president of the board of directors of Rocking the Boat, says that the effect that the organization has had on young participants is indisputable.

“Adam gives young people undervalued life skills," she says. "He uses boat building as a portal to change lives – not just Rocking the Boat's student's lives, but the lives of their families and the health of their community. Most of his students didn't even know there was a river in [their] neighborhood, much less why they should care about it.”

The program helps participants achieve personal success while transforming the way they relate to the environment “and the way they view their role in the world as young adults,” she says.

• For more information, visit www.rockingtheboat.org. On Sept. 27 Rocking the Boat is hosting a special fundraising event, Rocking Manhattan, during which teams of rowers will undertake a full-day, 30-mile row around the island of Manhattan in traditionally built whaleboats. For more information, visit www.rockingmanhattan.org.

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