In Hunts Point, the Bronx, a special program teaches boat-building and maritime skills to empower underprivileged youth. Rocking the Boat started as a volunteer project in 1996 and has since expanded to serve more than 2500 students and community members every year. NBCNewYork spoke with the program's founder and several of the teen participants.
When it comes to empowering teens, boatbuilding may not be the first activity that comes to mind. But in the South Bronx, hundreds of kids are setting sail for brighter futures in vessels they built with their own hands.
Rocking the Boat is a non profit organization that began as a volunteer project in 1996. Fourteen years later, it's still being run by the same captain. "I get to say [I'm] still in my first job out of college, which is kind of fun," jokes founder Adam Green, 37.
Today, Rocking the Boat serves more than 2500 students and community members in a half-acre facility at Hunts Point. Through on-water and wood shop programs, this special organization is helping teens become responsible, self-confident adults.
"Before Rocking the Boat I never spoke to people," said high school senior Raphael Salazar, "and I used to get shy and nervous. Now I'm getting the hang of it."
An ambitious 17-year-old from the Bronx, Raphael explained his plans of going to college, and of his passion for working with his hands. He proudly showed off the boats he helped construct, including "Triumph," the largest vessel in the fleet.
"It's basically like the mothership," he explained. "I wanted to name it La Madre, which in English is 'The Mother' [...] but we went with Triumph because its something we accomplished; we feel proud of it."
Teens at Rocking the Boat must attend a week of safety training before they can handle any tools to build vessels. That training is constantly reinforced through activities like "Name the Tool."
NBCNewYork sat in on a session of the pictionary-type game, led by Program Assistant Jhairo Colon. A student is secretly told the name of a tool, blindfolded and then asked to draw the tool on a whiteboard. The other kids must guess what the tool is.
"Working with tools is not something you can mess around with," Jhairo told us. "I don't want these kids hurting or cutting themslves. That's the most important thing -- safety in the shop."
Outdoors, another Program Assistant, Melissa Martinez, got ready to lead a group of students out on the water.
"A lot of kids, they're at home watching TV," she said, "but here, you're exercising...we have to monitor the water temperature, there's math skills, all those things are put together in one place. It's like to trick the kids because they're learning but they don't know they're learning."
Ultimately, Rocking the Boat aims to provide a seed of opportunity for its participants.
"What rocks the boat more than anything," Adam explains, "is giving kids from the poorest congressional district in the country a chance to dream big and work towards making those dreams come true."