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Seaport Sensation

Foundation builds boats and national influence.

For Joe Youcha, executive director of the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, it happens a few times every month: Someone he's never met before will ask how he or she can become more like him.

"No joke: I'm looking at an e-mail that says, 'Dear Joe, I've been following the news about the Seaport Foundation for a few years. It's a great idea, and I'm so pleased to keep hearing that things are going well. I, too, want to try and engage kids in this way, to offer a skill and help them get ahead in their education. Do you have any seminars or thoughts on how to get this started,'" Youcha said, reading aloud.

Where was the e-mail from?

"Madison, Wisconsin," Youcha said. "I get a couple of these a month."

So what's the best advice he can give them?

"Sober up," he said with a hearty laugh. "No, it really depends on what they want to do. What type of programs they want to do, and what the needs are for their community."

Youcha and the Seaport Foundation have served the needs of their community for years. The non-profit foundation facilitates boat-building programs for individuals and teams, but its biggest impact has been through its apprentice program — a program that teaches not only carpentry skills but also self-confidence for at-risk youth.

The Foundation's mission is celebrated annually at the Alexandria Seaport Family Boat Building Weekend, scheduled for Sept. 29-30 at Waterfront Park in Old Town. Teams purchase a boat-building kit for just over $800 and then work together with some expert help to create a sea-worthy Bevin's Skiff. They work through Saturday and sometimes into Sunday, with completed boats taking a maiden voyage in the Potomac River.

In addition, there are plenty of family-oriented events surrounding the festival, including model-ship building.

"We like to have a family-oriented event that focuses on boat-building and the river. That's why we do it," said Youcha. "It's always been a neat mix, and that's one of the great things about Alexandria. Especially with everything that we try to do — we try to open it up and let everybody participate, because it's everybody's river."

IT'S BEEN A busy summer for the Seaport Foundation.

Youcha said that the foundation built a ship that was on display at a wooden boat show at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn.

The foundation also had a canoe on display during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrated Native American culture in Virginia this year.

"That was great. We did a dugout canoe. It was a transitional canoe that wasn't just Native American but had different influences in it," he said.

That canoe will be headed down for display at the Sharon Indian School in King William County. The school served as a center of education for the Upper Mattaponi Tribe, and was one of the last Native American schools to operate in Virginia. It is now a historic center.

While the Seaport Foundation's influence continues to be felt around Virginia — and increasingly throughout America — Youcha said it remains focused on its primary mission.

"We're continuing to do work. We're turning out more and more kids from our apprentice program," he said.

Visit www.alexandriaseaport.org for more information.