Rocking the Boat

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important dates: june 6 - spring launch fest  |  may 23 - free community rowing begins



what's happening-winter/spring 2015


the river may be frozen, but our work keeps flowing

It used to be that the 11 weeks between the end of the fall semester in December and the start of the spring semester in March was a time for Rocking the Boat's program staff and social workers—freed from the responsibility of preparing for and running daily Boatbuilding and On-Water classes—to recharge, recruit, and revamp. But in an increased effort to keep our participants engaged and support them as they head back to school, staff organized a host of fun optional activities during the programming break: a four-week Winter Workshop series; a six-week snowboarding program; and a combined educational/recreational weekend in the Catskill Mountains.

The Winter Workshops were a 2015 addition to the January-February schedule and specifically designed to encourage students and Apprentices who may not normally work together to get to know each other better and learn new skills. Participants helped each other with woodworking projects in the shop, had a blast cooking pasta and plum crumble in the kitchen, collaborated on building a Rube Goldberg machine for feeding the fish that live in the Environmental Job Skills lab (it worked!), and helped each other prepare for a Public Meeting on the Bronx River Long Term Control Plan. At the meeting, representatives from the New York State Department of Environmental Protection presented information about the plan and attendees, including Rocking the Boat participants, had the opportunity to speak about the role of the Bronx River in their lives.

The Rube Goldberg fish feeder contraption we built last night was a success! This is how we'll be feeding our fish each and every time from now on.

Posted by Rocking the Boat on Friday, February 6, 2015

Rube Goldberg Fish Feeder


snowboarding This was Rocking the Boat's third year of involvement in the Chill Foundation's snowboarding program, through which four students traveled to Mountain Creek, NJ every Tuesday for six weeks, and learned how to snowboard alongside other high school students from across New York City. Chill operates in a dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada, and Rocking the Boat was one of a handful of community organizations and schools selected to participate. Given free gear and lessons from a certified instructor, the students quickly learned to love flying down the mountain. Like Rocking the Boat, Chill helps to improve self-esteem by teaching perseverance and patience and that, as they put it, "failure is not falling down, it's staying down."

ice fishing With consistent support from the Catskill Watershed Corporation and the Watershed Agricultural Council, for the tenth year 40 Rocking the Boat students, Apprentices, and Program Assistants ended the winter on a high note by heading north to the Catskills to enjoy and learn about the wintery woods that surround the New York City watershed. Instructors at Frost Valley YMCA designed a curriculum consisting of three science-based education sessions intended to connect Rocking the Boat participants to the biological diversity of the watershed region: a Watershed and Wilderness class, focused specifically on the New York City water supply system; a Winter Ecology class, and an Orienteering class. A series of related outdoor activities including ice fishing, ice cutting, and snow-shoe hiking, further emphasized the lessons of the educational sessions by connecting participants to the history of the area and demonstrating the role that each of us plays in protecting the natural environment and water supply for future generations. The group stopped at the Neversink Reservoir on the way back to the Bronx, where they received an explanation of the reservoir's creation and saw the building where water is processed before it travels down to New York City. Everyone got off the bus to soak in the natural beauty of the reservoir, a fitting end to a trip that highlights the interconnectedness between upstate and downstate New York.


rocking the boat staff now boasts four program alumni

Preparing young people with the hard and soft skills to enter the workforce and giving them their first part-time jobs—while still in high school as Job Skills Apprentices and later in college as Program Assistants—are among the most valuable and unique experiences Rocking the Boat provides its participants. In a few cases, the organization's commitment to hire alumni has gone even farther and, as of this spring, four of Rocking the Boat's 17 full-time staff are former students.

Joaquin Cotten first learned about Rocking the Boat in the summer of 2000 while crewing on the Sloop Clearwater as a teenager. Since then, Joaquin has been a volunteer, Boatbuilding student, On-Water Apprentice, and always a photographer. He became Rocking the Boat's first Photography Apprentice, and was the first former student to fill a full-time staff position, originally Art Director in 2006, and now has the role of Communications Director. Joaquin is responsible for all visual documentation and presentation of Rocking the Boat activities, including photography, graphic design, and promotional pieces.

Edmanuel Roman grew up living three floors above Rocking the Boat's shop back when it was located on 174th Street and Walton Avenue. As soon as he was eligible, 14-year-old Manny signed onto the Boatbuilding Program and worked to build Aurora—the first of 14 vessels he would help to construct. Over the years, Manny has held various roles at Rocking the Boat including Boatbuilding Apprentice, Boatbuilding Program Assistant, overseeing more junior Program Assistants, and Interim Boatbuilding Job Skills Program Director. As Restoration Manager since 2014, Manny is responsible for maintaining Rocking the Boat's complex physical plant, both that which floats and that which doesn't.

Carlos Duran, Rocking the Boat's newly minted Fleet Manager, was a Boatbuilding student from 2006 to 2008 and served as a Program Assistant on and off for the past six years. He has proven to be as skilled at sailing boats as he is at building them, and is a natural-born teacher. In between stints as Bo'sun, 2nd Mate, and most recently Chief Mate on the Sloop Clearwater and an Apprentice boatbuilder at Brennan Boatbuilding in Ossining, NY, Carlos has, since 2013, been back at Rocking the Boat running sailboats in both the Youth Development and On-Water Classroom Programs. In his new role he will be responsible for managing and maintaining Rocking the Boat's sailing fleet as well as assisting in running the sailing program. Carlos is Rocking the Boat's first program graduate who is fully capable of teaching sailing, and will be among the first to become U.S. Sailing Small Boat Level 1 Instructor certified. He plans to take the test to receive his U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton inland captain's license later this year.

Victoria Swedin joined the On-Water Program in the summer of 2006 and graduated from the New York Harbor School in 2008. Interviewed that year for a promotional piece, Tori said, "Every time I see a spill on the river or someone harming the river in any way, it hurts me to know that they do not care about what they are doing. That makes me think that I could do something about that one day." During her tenure as an Environmental Job Skills Apprentice, Tori became certified to drive a powerboat, received canoe and kayak training in order to lead public paddling outings, and set her sights on becoming an environmental lawyer. Tori's interest in teaching others about the river and their role in protecting its species and promoting its health brought her back to Rocking the Boat first as a Program Assistant, from which she was elevated to the position of On-Water Classroom Education Coordinator in 2014. As she works her way through college, she is now the organization's full time Administrative Assistant, serving as the face of Rocking the Boat!