SEE IT: Rowing 30 miles around Manhattan for Rocking the Boat nonprofit
Volunteers raise half a million dollars in all-day rowing adventure
Early in the morning of Sept. 24, more than a hundred enthusiastic folks gathered at ONE15 Brooklyn Marina in Brooklyn Bridge Park for a unique adventure: rowing around the entire island of Manhattan in 26-foot Whitehall rowing gigs — a trip of almost 30 miles.
Every fall for 14 years, friends and co-workers have joined together in teams to raise money for the nonprofit Rocking the Boat and its programs for youth in the South Bronx. The organization teaches the skills involved in boat building, sailing and environmental science, and provides strong social support.
The rowing fundraiser is called “Rocking Manhattan,” and rock they did: past ferries, freighters and landmarks like Little Island Park and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and under 21 bridges.
The coxswains — who face forward and guide the rowers — were all Rocking the Boat alumni. The power rowers, known as the “engine,” were volunteers, as were the rowers who set the pace, designated as the “stroke.”
The organizational logistics behind the operation were truly impressive. Numerous motorized support and spectator boats, manned by Rocking the Boat staff, alumni and volunteers from ONE15 Brooklyn Marina and other marine professionals, made sure the route was clear and responded if someone needed assistance. The journey was broken into three legs, with a delicious breakfast and lunch provided between the legs. (Volunteers could choose to row one, two or all three of the legs.)
At the end of the day, all the boats made it safely back to One15 Brooklyn Marina, where participants swapped stories and celebrated their accomplishments with a party and bounteous dinner at Estuary restaurant, courtesy of the marina.
Biggest Rocking Manhattan ever
“We use boatbuilding and environmental science and sailing to allow young people from the under-resourced community of the South Bronx to discover opportunities they may never have known existed, helping them to grow into whomever they want to become,” Rocking the Boat Founder and Executive Director Adam Green told the Brooklyn Eagle. The organization’s saying is, “At Rocking the Boat, kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids.”
Green said he got the idea from an experience he had in 1996 while volunteering at a school in Harlem.
“When I was 23 years old and volunteered at a junior high school in East Harlem, a science teacher told me he had this dream to build a boat but he could never do it, and wondered if I wanted to try,” Green said. “I said sure! He gave me some materials and some plans, and we built an 8-ft. dinghy in his classroom, which we floated in a pool in the school’s basement that June.” (The organization’s 2.2-mile Pennoyer Cup race is dedicated to that inspirational teacher.)
Since then, Rocking the Boat students have built dozens of boats by hand at their classroom/workshop complex at Hunts Point. The organization serves hundreds of students enrolled in STEM-based programs every year.
“This is certainly our biggest Rocking Manhattan,” Green added. At the time this article was being written, the fundraiser had raised more than $512,000 (their goal was $400,000), with donations still pouring in.
Each student has their own social worker
“Rocking the Boat provides a non-stigmatized way of getting support from social workers,” said Xiomara Ayala, senior director of Social Work. “We support every single student. So not just the special kid gets a social worker, everyone gets a social worker. We are always available to talk about the things that they need, advocate for them, do college prep — or not college prep. We meet them where they are at as far as what do they want to do after high school.”
Even the alumni get social workers “to kind of keep track of what’s going on post-high school,” she said. “Sometimes they just call to check in because they are feeling kind of homesick and they just need something familiar. We’ve had 11 alumni become program directors, so I think it’s amazing how Incorporated alumni and students become in the program.”
Bringing diversity to sailing
Juan Pablo Sarmiento Torres is director of sailing operations at Rocking the Boat.
“Giving teenagers access to the water and the sport of sailing, being able to go on the Bronx River and the East River, is a huge thing for the community that we work with because there is a very clear racial and class separation between who gets to go sailing out on the water and who doesn’t,” Torres said.
“Sailing has, sadly, traditionally been kind of an upper-class sport; also that comes with a certain race,” he said. “I think that 99 percent of our kids come from the Bronx and none of them, on a regular basis, would have access to the water. So for me, bringing a little diversity to the sport is important, and also welcoming them to a world which otherwise they would not have been welcome to.”
“All Rocking the Boat students graduate from high school,” said Jaye Pockriss, senior director of development and operations (who also serves as president of the Brooklyn Heights Music Society). “And most go on to enroll in college or trade school.”
Marina has worked with community groups for years
Through its community dock, ONE15 Brooklyn Marina supports a range of not-for-profits involved in water-related education, environmental and transformational experiences, said Estelle Lau, the marina’s CEO. This includes sailing lessons for community members who might otherwise never set foot on a sailboat.
“We’ve been working with Rocking the Boat for many years and enjoy seeing their teens grow into amazing adults!” she told the Eagle. “This year I rowed under our Cox’n Angelina, who first worked with us as a Harbor School intern in 2015 and is now a college graduate working at Outward Bound NY. To see the waterfront community support young people who in turn grow up and support others has been one of the greatest gifts that our marina has been able to give to me.”
“This is my first event as the new Dockmaster at ONE15 and I’m thrilled to have been able to collaborate with Rocking the Boat — it was such a well-organized event with all of the row boats, support boats and spectator boats working together to safely experience the harbor,” said Will McCormac. “ONE15 and I are proud to host the start and finish and to know that everyone – from seasoned to new participants can enjoy the harbor. It was such a thrill to hear the first boats call out to us for entry into the marina and welcome everyone safely back.”
Volunteers come back year after year
William Smith piloted one of the support boats on the circuit. He said he got involved by chance after meeting board member Peter Wright.
”It was really quite random. I sail on Barnegat Bay in New Jersey, and he sails at Barnegat Bay as well. He asked if I’d be interested in riding in a boat for a project called Rocking the Boat. And I’ve been doing it ever since, about six years now. It’s amazing. I really enjoy it, like everybody.”
Smith was accompanied by his wife Cathleen Klemm, who is not a sailor but enjoyed the adventure.
“I’m involved in supporting Bill, and just for fun,” she said. “It’s a great time, and it’s great to see everybody come together for a really good cause.”
Firefighter Kyle Donnely served as the event’s safety coordinator. “I’m a firefighter and EMT,” he said. “I’ve been on the water my whole life since I was nine years old. Water is life.”
This is the tenth year Rocking the Boat board member Carla Murphy has put together a team to row around Manhattan. A dynamo who works in the technology area for FDNY, she originally met founder Green on the subway. “We talked about his hiking boots,” she laughed. Murphy put together the largest team for the event.
One of the volunteers recruited by Murphy was Brooklyn resident and sailor Sandy Krasovec, a program coordinator in packaging design and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“I have been supporting Carla Murphy and Rocking the Boat for as long as this has been happening,” Krasovec told the Eagle. “It’s important that people know that they really do what they say they’re going to do. They really support an underprivileged area of New York City, and the kids that go through this program really excel, finish high school and go on to college.”
Tim Eakins said he also found out about the organization through Murphy. “What I really like about Rocking the Boat is they invest in the individual and they show people who really don’t have role models or a way to get out of where they are at a path forward. Building a boat is totally random, but then you learn there are other opportunities out there you may not have seen. Which I think is really cool.”
Thomas Jocelyn, president of Scientific Electric Company, is a member of ONE15 Brooklyn Marina and is also on the board of another nonprofit that works with the marina, Friends of Karen.
“My company, Scientific Electric, wired the marina and we help out there, so we know a lot of people at the marina,” Jocelyn said. “They told us about Rocking Manhattan and I decided to row and help sponsor the event. I also actually wired Rocking the Boat’s shop when they first started in Hunts Point — my shop was right next to their shop. So we have a long history.”
“The group of volunteers that turned out today is very generous because they gave not only their time but they gave their blood, sweat and tears for a great organization which helps children grow up and lead productive lives,” he added. “And for that I think everyone deserves a round of applause.”
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