The Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory has been around since its founding in 1996 and on Saturday June 21st the organization continued its lengthening legacy of spreading the smiles on the faces of its students with their boat launch. Students from all over Philadelphia came together after school for an entire year to build nothing other than sailboats. This past weekend, their hard work finally came to fruition at the Frankford Arsenal Boat Ramp on the shores of the Delaware River.
Three boats, Atlas, About Time and the Purple Lady set sail on Saturday as proud parents and mentors looked on from the dock. But for these kids and the Executive Director of the innovative after-school program, Brett Hart, sailing had not always been so breezy. “I grew up in Frankford,” Hart expresses, and although he was afraid of the activity when it was first introduced to him at the age of seven, he says he’s “also really intrigued by the things that frighten [him]”. Hart believes that everyone should “live at that moment where things have to push you to be outside of your comfort zone”. “I think that’s where you grow” he says.
Hart and the other staffers at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory (PWBF) encourage their 23 students to find that very moment. From budgeting, fundraising, building, painting, and sailing, students like Anisha Ellis, 16, a junior from George Washington Carver Engineering and Science High School, earned every bit of pride they felt as their boats were christened on Saturday. Philadelphia high school students and boat building aren’t necessarily two things that most people would put together. Ellis knows from the reactions of those around her that what she’s doing is “something different and fun. It’s not something you would normally get involved in”. The uniqueness of the program, Ellis says, means “you have to talk to the right people” in order to get them involved, “because if they aren’t about hands on activities, group work and communication, then it won’t be fun for them”.
“I came into this program knowing nothing about boats”, Ellis says, but the relationships the students have with their mentors is “comfortable… you could talk to them and they’d help you”. Hart agrees that, “we’re at our best as staff when we’re acting as a resource”. And just as Ellis and the other students benefit from the wealth of knowledge the PWBF staff offers, Hart says the staff learns from their students as well.
If the kids take anything away from the program, Harts says he hopes that the “connections [they’ve] established with [their] students will allow them the strength and resiliency to take risk and to fail and to recover from that failure”. “Thats the most important part”, he adds.