For these students, boat building is a vessel for healing

Posted by Nancy Rogan on

PBS NewsHour
August 1, 2018

Judy Woodruff:
And finally tonight, a unique program that teaches urban youth how to build boats and, in the process, grow their communication skills and self-confidence.

The story is reported by student Anthony Rivera and comes to us through our Student Reporting Lab at the U School in Philadelphia.

Anthony Rivera:
High schooler Saviel Veras Nunas is becoming an expert in a field that some would consider unusual for a teen living in north Philadelphia: boat building.

Saviel Veras Nunas:
We try new stuff every day, and we build different boats, and there comes the day when we have got to go and try it at the water.

Anthony Rivera:
Saviel is part of an apprenticeship program at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory. Founded in 1996, the organization provides after-school programming for urban youth living in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

Emma Bergman is a social worker and served as the organization’s clinical director for two years.

Emma Bergman:
Many of the young people who come to us who are recruited through their different school communities have experienced some kind of trauma as a result of living in areas where there are high rates of poverty and also community violence.

And so our programming is designed to be a trauma-informed program where we support young people with engaging in corrective experiences.

Saviel Veras Nunas:
People that work here treat us like family, because they always there for us, even when we go into the good times and the low times.

Anthony Rivera:
The organization balances boat-making programs with social and emotional peer- and counselor-led support.

Former executive director Brett Hart says the objective is to arm young people with the skills to problem-solve any challenge.

Brett Hart:
Having social workers on our staff, and having those supports in place for the young people who engage, and then being intentional about the social and emotional health and aspects of our program build a sustainable model for apprenticeship for teenagers who are in a crazy hectic moment in their lives.

Anthony Rivera:
Clarence Thomas graduated from Wooden Boat Factory and now works as an engineering aide for the city of Philadelphia. The program helped him overcome the disappointment of not being able to play professional football.

Clarence Thomas:
I literally had all my goals set on football. You know, I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t care about school. All I cared was about football.

And when I came here, it was like, hey, there’s something else out there that you can also be interested in.

Anthony Rivera:
Perhaps the most visible impact can be seen in the feeling students have when they finally get to put their boats in the water.

Clarence Thomas:
Finishing a boat, it was amazing. I can’t explain it, because it was an accomplishment that I don’t know a lot of people that have built a boat before.

And seeing it on the water, it was unexplainable. This program impacted my life by me physically and mentally, because I would break down and go, I can’t do this. And you have to figure it out, because that’s the way you going to build the boat. That’s the only way you’re going to progress.

Anthony Rivera:
"For the “PBS NewsHour”‘s Student Reporting Labs, this is Anthony Rivera in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Judy Woodruff:
Terrific program for those young people.

Click here for the full report and video.

 

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