By Rich Adams
Elks, courts and boating organizations team up to provide a path to smooth sailing
When troubled kids in Iosco County are assigned community service in juvenile court, it could set them in an unusual direction: out to sea.
Or at least out on the waters of Tawas Bay.
That’s because for the second year, Iosco County Family Court’s Juvenile Enhanced Accountability Program (JEAP) teamed up with Tawas Area Elks Lodge No. 2525 and Heritage Coast Sailing and Rowing to give youthful offenders a chance to complete their court-ordered community service by building boats.
The program began when 81st District Judge Christopher Martin, who is an Elks member, and Brad Saegesser, community grant coordinator for the local Elks Lodge discussed using a $2,500 promise grant from the Elks National Foundation for a coordinated community service project.
The first project was creating and maintaining a landscape bed in a local park. The second year, in collaboration with Alabaster Township officials, resulted in the installation of mile markers and interpretive signs on the Tawas Bay Pedestrian and Bike Path. The third year the youngsters dug holes for and planted 10,000 daffodil bulbs along the path.
That’s when David Wentworth, the township supervisor’s husband and a member of Heritage Coast Sailing and Rowing (HCSR), a local nonprofit dedicated to encouraging boat building, sailing and rowing in traditional regional boats, suggested having the kids build a boat, for use by the organization, as a way to fulfill their community service mandate.
“We started talking with the JEAP program about it, and what we really liked about this program is it would be an ongoing, multi-month project,” Saegesser recalled.
Until the boat project set sail, all the other community service projects had been intensive one- or two-day projects. Last year, during the inaugural boat building, the JEAP youth met three hours every Tuesday night and four hours every other Saturday morning.
This year’s project is construction of two replicas of a 1944 Lowell Coast Guard rowing dory. The design is from a few pages of “The Dory Book” by John Gardner. HCSR drew plans from the design outlined in the book and the two boats are being built from scratch, including the oars.
“These are four-person rowing dories with a coxswain, so our goal then, once the dories are completed, is we will teach the JEAP youth how to row as a team,” Saegesser said.
Once they can row as a team, plans are to have races or competitions amongst the young boat-builders. Then the two boats will be available for the sailing and rowing organization for its members to enjoy.
Wentworth, the point person for HCSR, said things get pretty tight in the nonprofit’s facility where the boats are built.
“Our facility is basically a four-car garage, so when you put a boat in it and a bunch of tools, there’s not a lot of room,” Wentworth explained “If we got too many people in there, it just wouldn’t work.”
So, with four of the JEAP youth, three from the HCSR, two people from the court system and three Elks, things get close – which presents a learning opportunity as well.
“One of my favorite stories is there were people standing along the side of a boat. The kid on the starboard side was intent on sanding and he was sanding away and he blew the sawdust off, the sanding dust, into the face of the guy on the port side of the boat,” Wentworth said. “He happened to be an adult who very calmly said, ‘You know, if, if you blow on that, you blow it right into my face,’ and the kid didn’t have any idea what he was doing, but he became much more sensitive to his surroundings after that.”
Michael Miszak, an intensive in-home care worker for Iosco County Trial Court, said the program’s goal is to help the youth, not punish them.
“The main thing we’re looking to accomplish is to help the youths to understand the impact of their actions, to accept responsibility, express some kind of remorse and take action to help repair whatever damage may have been caused by whatever they did to get there,” Miszak explained. “And we help through the program to teach them different skills to help improve their situation or even help to further develop any skill that they may already have that they are aware of, but try and help them use them more regularly on a day-to-day basis.”
While the young offenders learn certain skills, such as team building, respect for others and themselves, and communication, the adult volunteers and mentors also learn from the youngsters, Miszak said.
“I think we’ve learned that these kids have a lot to teach us too, like are very capable of things when we give them the opportunity. These kids are capable of a lot more than what they even thought they could do,” he said.
Both Saegesser and Wentworth pointed out the young boat-builders not only take pride in their work, they take ownership.
“With some of the other earlier community service projects we’ve done with them where we’re just a daylong contact, they were just like, ‘OK, I’ve got to go out here and I got to dig holes and plant 10,000 daffodils.’ Then they could come back come back a year later and see how beautiful the daffodils were, but there wasn’t really that kind of ownership,” Saegesser said. “With the boats they’re actually getting engaged in this project. They’re taking pride in what they’re doing.”Wentworth agreed.
“When we launched the boat that we built last year, they got to operate it and it was their boat,” Wentworth said. “It wasn’t our boat or the Elks’ boat or the court system’s boat – it was the boat that they built and it was theirs. And if you talk to them, they still talk about their boat.”