By BENJAMIN BAUGH
The Voice of experience.
The core group of adult volunteers at Learn to Sail Inc. in Punta Gorda, bring a collective knowledge that can be overwhelming, but it’s their enthusiasm and passion that’s most compelling.
Their presence is felt at its greatest in the winter, when the Snowbirds boast their strongest numbers. The volunteers take on a series of responsibilities, maintaining the grounds, the maintenance of the boats and the marketing, said Julie Jackson, Learn to Sail Inc. president.
“The maintenance, there’s a lot of upkeep,” said Jackson. “A lot of volunteer work goes into running this place. But we lose a lot of them in the summertime. We have our largest portion of our sailing classes in the summer. We just have a very good core group of volunteers that are doing this.”
The 501©(3) nonprofit organization were the recipient of a 1963 Flying Scot sail boat, said Jackson.
However, age is no limitation and there are a couple of volunteers who are in their 80s.
This past summer, the sailing school was fortunate to have a strong group of youth instructors, whose influence made a marked difference in the program, said Jackson.
“They’re really good in helping us teach the other kids,” said Jackson. “Adults can try and teach the kids how to tie knots, do a bowline or an clove hitch, and they may not get it. A kid can walk over and do the exact same thing, and they pick it up.”
The program had two youth ambassadors, Hunter Ingrahm and Abigail Willis, who were exemplary in their actions and serve as role models for the young people participating in the camp.
“The two girls, Learn to Sail hoped to put through sailing school, so they can come back and be instructors,” said Jackson.
“Both of those girls have helped to teach adult sailing classes, they’re that good. They’re both natural sailors. They’re great mentors for the other kids.”
Ingram and Willis have proven to be invaluable providing the adult instructors with insight as to what the kids communicate and are interested in, when their older counterparts are preoccupied, so they can make modifications and improve the program.Their maturity belies their age, said Jackson.
“They’ve come up with some great ideas,” said Jackson. “We listen to them, and they don’t want to miss a day. Abigail is only 11 and Hunter just started high school.”
The program’s newest instructor Savannah Welton, is an elementary school teacher, who has been a sailing instructor for several years, and teaches both the adults and children. Her father is a principal and her mother a teacher at area schools.
Learn to Sail also played a large role in helping to improve the quality of life of three children who were brought to the classes by the Millenium Medical Group, said Jackson.
“I’ve been getting word out to all of the doctors about the program, and are telling them if you have children that are overweight, or of you think they’re spending too much time in front of a computer screen, this is a program that will get them out of the house,” said Jackson.
Welton has been an instructor with the program since November, and teaches adults to sail on weekends.
“I participated in the adult sailing classes that we had in March,” said Welton. “That was a pilot program. This is my first time working here. I did work in Tennessee at a summer camp, with a similar age group...teaching sailing.”
Sailing is a sport that you need to be an active participant in, said Welton.
It’s that unique quality, one that allows children to explore their limits because of the environment they’re placed in, where they have an opportunity to grow through real practical experience.