Hi everyone! I’m in Worcester right now for some days off, volunteering for Worcester World Cup, an FIFA-inspired community soccer tournament that one of my best friends spear-heads each year. I had a full first couple of weeks on Clearwater, and I’m enjoying some down time but I wanted to report back on life aboard “The Pete Seeger Boat”.
First of all, I have to say that this is a gorgeous boat with a remarkable and inspiring history. In the sixties, a bunch of people, many of them folk musicians, decided that they wanted to draw attention to the Hudson River, which at the time was heavily polluted by raw sewage and industrial waste, including large amounts of PCB’s, a known carcinogen. They raised a bunch of money, and commissioned the Sloop Clearwater as a symbol of the Hudson’s beauty, designed after the old Hudson River sloops that used to carry cargo down the river.
Since then, the Sloop Clearwater has been traveling up and down the Hudson, teaching children and youth of New York about the environment. Their mission is “to provide innovative environmental programs, advocacy, and celebrations designed to inspire, educate and activate the next generation of environmental leaders.” And they do.
Working as an educator on boats, over the years I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to teaching in this very unique environment. Each boat has its own set of values or topics of focus, but the universal challenge (perhaps with teaching in general) is deciding whether to touch the lives of a lot of kids a little, or the lives of a few kids a lot. It’s a tough choice and the two usually seem mutually exclusive, but Clearwater’s model does both.
The main work of Clearwater, as I was told over and over again during my interview, is teaching (not sailing!). We take 15 thousand school children onto the Hudson River each year for 3 hour daysails, during which we barrage them with a mountain of information, activities and local lore (so I’m told, I haven’t done this part yet). This is the mass education part. It seems like every kid in the Hudson River Valley has been on the Clearwater and can tell you the name of at least one species of fish.
But what happens to those kids as they get older? What happens when they age out of Clearwater field-trips? This is where the model becomes special. In the summertime, Clearwater hosts two grant-funded, multi-day programs for 15-18 year olds: Young Women at the Helm, and Young Men at the Helm. These programs are the beginning of a pipeline that ushers the most interested and promising youth of the Hudson River Valley from participant to volunteer, to intern, to crew member, and maybe even one day to captain. The current captain, first mate, second mate and two apprentices all got their start as either participants or volunteers.
Before I lost my marbles and ran away to the sea, I worked as a program coordinator at several small, youth-serving non-profits in Worcester, MA. I’ve seen a lot of really fantastic youth development programs, many much more radical or visible than the one that Clearwater runs. But I’ve never seen one that as successfully meets the needs as broadly and deeply of so many youth as this one. The Clearwater Organization is undoubtedly “inspiring, educating and activating the next generation of environmental leaders.”
When I finally come to my senses and return to the real world, I will be bringing the gospel of this model with me wherever I go. Although it may not be such a sure fire approach without the help of a majestic old boat to capture the imagination.