Camden's youth connect with the community's rich maritime culture

Standing next to the boat he’d helped build, a young UrbanPromise student is asked, “So, do you think you’d like to do this for a living?”  The student laughs and says, “Definitely not!  But it is something I’d like to do with my children some day.”

The city of Camden has a rich history, especially connected to its waterways.  Urban BoatWorks, UrbanPromise Ministries’ wooden boat-building program, connects young Camden residents with that history and culture through paddles on the tidal Cooper River, outings to local maritime museums and sites, and boat builds in its local shop, housed at the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum.  Each time students enter the shop, they pass a statue of Matthew Henson, co-discoverer of the North Pole, representing Camden’s connections to the far-reaches of the world through its connecting waterways. 

For the second year in a row, the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust, through its Philadelphia Maritime Grants program, has awarded UrbanPromise Ministries with a $25,000 grant to support Urban BoatWorks.  The award is part of the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust’s Maritime Grants program which provides funding support to non-profit organizations in the Philadelphia, Delaware River, area for maritime educational activities designed to: preserve historic maritime resources, increase public awareness, develop an appreciation for the maritime heritage of Philadelphia, or teach basic or advanced maritime skills.

Urban BoatWorks programs pair the art of boat building with school STEM curriculum to create an experiential learning environment that enables students to engage with academic lessons in an interesting, innovative way, learn about their community’s rich maritime history, acquire valuable life-skills while working through the boat-building process alongside a team of caring and invested volunteers, and gain on-the-water recreation and educational experience in local waterways.  Students in BoatWorks participate in 10 annual paddles in our waterways including the tidal Cooper River, Delaware River, Mullica and Batsto Rivers, and have seen an increase in their math performance by as much as 4 grade-levels, as measured by state-wide Terra Nova tests. 

While all students may not see their experience in the boat shop as they doorway to their vocational dreams, students learn valuable life lessons.  Sanding a canoe, a process taking weeks in the shop, teaches students the importance of persistence through an unpleasant task which produces a glorious end-product.  Carefully choosing strips of cedar for an Abenaki canoe teaches students the importance of craftsmanship and attention to detail—anyone can build something ugly, but only those who work with care will build something truly remarkable.  Working alongside caring adults and teachers, students learn the value of group work and sharing something you love with others, perhaps even with their own children some day.