2010-09-10 / Community

Rockaway Waterfront Alliance Hosts Summer Youth Program

Joel Stoehr shows kids how to surf. Joel Stoehr shows kids how to surf. This summer something truly magical took place. During a time when funding across the state has been cut and non profit organizations struggle, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance took on the challenge of hosting its first fullfledged summer youth program to get kids off the streets and engage them in environmental programming, and outdoor water-based recreation.

Last September RWA started a water safety and swim program out of Far Rockaway High School in an effort to give young people a chance to connect with their waterfront. Today some of those same kids, who less than a year ago were fearful of water, were now not only swimming in the ocean but also kayaking, surfing and leading an intensive marine science and shoreline restoration program along the Rockaway shoreline. A spokesperson for the organization says that RWA education staff led by Program Coordinator Elizabeth Manclark did an unbelievable job in keeping up with the kids and coordinated efforts with more than 20 volunteers who mentored the kids on a weekly basis.

Don Riepe shows the students a blue crab. Don Riepe shows the students a blue crab. In the mornings the students paddled out to the tip of Dubos Point where they led large scale cleanups, collecting more than 400 bags of trash and marine debris followed by water testing and monitoring of the oyster garden. The afternoons were spent doing running relays, swimming and surfing on the beach.

The kids worked as a team and, on a weekly basis, the group paired up with 20 students from Kulanu Day Camp who came to help with the clean ups. In exchange RWA youth led the students kayaking along Jamaica Bay. “These kids have been outstanding role models working with our students and we hope some of them might even consider coming to work with Kulanu next year,” said Jonathan Cooper of Kulanu Day Camp.

Janet Fash with students. Janet Fash with students. Tony Pignatello of Sebago Canoe Club came with other Sebago members to lead a paddle lesson and was touched by the youths’ professionalism as they helped to load the Sebago boats and equipment back onto their cars. “In all my years I have worked with a lot of students but I have never met more caring, and compassionate kids than those in your program. They looked out for each other and showed genuine concern for everyone’s safety (adults included). It was a joy to paddle with them and we hope to come back again,” said Pignatello.

RWA reports that, “At the end of the summer, this outstanding group of kids was recognized for their efforts by Jerry Lamura from the Queens Borough President’s Office who awarded the students certificates of recognition for their work to improve the environment.”

Jaid Brown tows in Kulani educator Mark Hoffacker and students. Jaid Brown tows in Kulani educator Mark Hoffacker and students. “It’s ironic that in a time when there is so much focus on the environment, that NYC’s only barrier island wouldn’t have more programs like this. This program serves as an example of how the Rockaway shoreline could be used not only as an educational resource but also to improve the health and well being of the community through outdoor recreation. The greatest benefit of all, though, is that these kids are now advocates who will introduce past and future generations to this spectacular waterfront,” said RWA Executive Director Jeanne DuPont.

This was the first summer RWA received funding to support an environmental summer program for youth, at no cost to the families. The RWA spokesperson says that the organization “wants to give special thanks to Janet Fash, Tony Pignatello, Ari Zablozki, Joel Stoehr, Frank Cullen, Rich Livsey, Bretton Boudreaux, Steve Larosiliere, Don Riepe, Elizabeth Gilchrist, Shawn Kessler, Taka Imamura and RWA educators Keneisha Turner, Madeleine Stern, Rebecca Schultz and Meaghan Lenna for making this summer an unforgettably memorable experience. We are grateful to the private individuals, corporations and foundations who supported this program including: Aviation Development Corporation, Capital One, Habitat Estuary Program, NEIWPCC and National Fish and Wildlife Fund.”

To see pictures of the summer program check out the flickr photos on www.rwalliance.org

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