May 21st 2012
A couple years ago, at the beginning of the boat-build season, our BoatWorks student's completed a survey about their talents, interests, and learning styles.
I watched as the new recruits answered each question, particularly interested in the responses of an especially eager boatwright, a seventh grader named Kelechi. Peering over his slumped shoulder, I watched as Kelechi answered the category entitled “Working with your hands.” His response? “Awesome.” He couldn't see the smile on my face as I walked away. Kelechi’s ability to work with his hands was evident as he helped create a beautiful sunfish dinghy that year. He became one of our most loyal and focused boatwrights in the shop. At the end of that build season, Kelechi and the same motley group of students who had completed the interest survey just nine months earlier boarded their dinghies for a final on-the-water race—a dramatic end to a year of building and sailing. I watched as Kelechi struggled through a header (wind shift) to round the buoy just fast enough to steal everyone else's wind. He couldn't hear my laughter—or see my pride—as he crossed the finish line. Nowadays, Kelechi—currently part of our “advanced build” class—calls himself the “master boat-builder.” I’d have to agree. Kelechi has developed particular tricks and techniques that allow for efficiency and ease within the shop. (He likes to put boat-building clamps on his shirt so he can always have one handy.) The walls of his bedroom are adorned with nothing but wood pieces he’s shaped during builds. This past Christmas, the only gifts he asked for were carving tools. He didn't notice the tears in my eyes when he told me he received what he wanted. In a city where young folks commonly engage in crime and violence, and struggle to find their identity, Kelechi has chosen to be a boatwright. Camden was born on the water. Streets coded in maritime vocabulary remind us of the city’s once thriving shipbuilding community. Partially demolished buildings line the edges of the Delaware and Cooper Rivers. Waves smack the riverbanks’ concrete retention walls as if to call us back home. I thank God each day that a middle school boy with clamps on his shirt not only hears that call, but also answers it. Thank you for your ongoing support. Jesus Castro Program Director of Urban BoatWorks