An international "armada" was launched last Friday from Alexandria's Waterfront Park. The crews were composed of 97 teenagers from a dozen nations.
As participants in Youth Leaders International's 10-day summer conference, they devoted two of those days to building nine flatbottom rowboats with guidance from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. Then they were adventurous enough to board their craft, taking turns in groups of threes and fours, and row them out onto the Potomac River under the watchful eyes of their mentors and Foundation personnel.
Based in Rockville, Md., Youth Leaders International (YLI) "has as its mission the goal of providing exceptional young people with the very best in leadership training," according to Daniel E. Houlahan, director, Special Initiatives, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"We teach leadership and celebrate diversity. The program has been in existence for eight years and this is our second year to bring them to the Seaport Foundation," Houlahan said.
The program for each group is spread over a three-year span. "The first year we bring them to the Washington area to get a first hand look at our government and the communities in the area," he said.
"The second year they each pick where in the world they would like to go. They are housed with a local family and become immersed in that culture. The third year is spent in Cambridge, England, learning how they can give back to their country and communities," Houlahan said.
On July 24 and 25 the group gathered at Robinson Terminal, where the Foundation leases space for its boat building activities, to construct their 12-foot Bevin Skiffs, according to Joseph Youcha, executive director of the Seaport Foundation. "These boat will now be donated to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to be used in their various environmental programs," Youcha said.
That end result tied directly into one of YLI's guiding principles and values: "YLI believes it is important for all members to give back to society by participating in a sanctioned charitable endeavor."
IN ADDITION to the YLI boats, the Foundation has built 25 other boats this summer for various local groups and has shipped out 40 more boat kits to groups nationally who are undertaking boat building projects on an educational basis, according to Youcha.
The Foundation also trains local youth in boat building and carpentry. Last Friday night three such youth graduated from its six-month course and received jobs through the Carpenter's Union as well as their GEDs, Youcha said.
Prior to launching their self-made vessels, the YLI youth were treated to luncheon at the Old Dominion Boat Club. They also learned the history of the club and of Alexandria's ties to ship building.
"Participating in YLI is an awesome experience," said Anna Kim of Sydney, Australia. "It's a chance to meet new people and learn about new cultures. I'm learning a lot being able to interact with so many different people from all over the world."