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Alexandria Seaport Foundation
“When I was young, I never thought about my future. Now my future is constantly on my mind,” said Juan Carlos Enriquez, an apprentice in the Alexandria Seaport Foundation boatbuilding apprentice program, which provides at-risk, underserved youth in the Washington D.C. area with hands-on work development training through building boats.
Enriquez is among a diverse cast of individuals whose stories of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles are highlighted in the nationally broadcast KET series, Dropping Back In.
Apprentices work alongside volunteers who teach them carpentry and construction as well as the skills they will need to live fulfilling, productive lives.
“All of us know if you work in a job, what makes you successful. It’s not just your ability to do the job, it’s also what’s called ‘soft skills,’ according to Kavitha Cordoza, a correspondent for WAMU in Washington D.C. Cordoza has done extensive reporting on dropouts and adult education in America.
“It’s showing up on time. It’s being positive. It’s getting along well with people, knowing how to dress,” she adds. “If no one has told them before, how are they supposed to know?”
“The boats aren’t important. You just need an object to focus on. It’s about the kids, their history, their life, the problems they have experienced, and learning what it’s like to hold a job,” said Jay Creech, a long-time volunteer in the Alexandria, Virginia program.
“I think all of us take pride in our work,” Creech continues. “It’s a matter of teaching young people to take pride in the skills and their work and what they can accomplish.”
“The volunteers are the lifeblood of the program,” according to ASF founder Joe Youcha. “When the kids are working alongside these volunteers, who are largely retired from very successful careers, they realize that if that type of person believes in them and what they’re trying to do with their lives, then that changes the kids’ expectations of themselves. They believe they have a place in society.”
Program director Stephen Hernandez added, “When old hair rubs against the new, they really do tend to bond. It happens naturally; we don’t have to force the friendship or the kinship.”
Creech continued, “After a month or two the rapport gets built up. You can talk about things like their problems at home, their finances, how to open a bank account, where do they go to get a driver’s license, how do they pay for insurance—all the many different life lessons that they are going to experience. And all of a sudden, those subjects are of interest to them.”
“I just knew I had to change my life around. I couldn’t keep getting in trouble, having court dates,” remembers Enriquez. “I decided, ‘I need this.’ And I don’t even like boats! I just knew this place would help me out with a lot of things, getting on the right track.”
Apprentices leave the ASF program with a skill level close to the second year of a carpenter’s union apprentice, according to Creech, and other apprentices have become electrician apprentices, plumbers, and painters. “They know the math. They know the construction. They know the hand tools and the hand power tools. That gives them a step up. The carpenter’s union sees us a pre-apprentice source for them.”