From dockside the sight of a small crew, including several teenagers, getting ready to set sail from the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron on a beautiful Sunday afternoon simply looked like business as usual. For some of the sailors on board however, this could not have been any farther from their “usual”.
Captain Lisa Roland will tell you that learning to sail as a teenager completely changed her life. This is something she has never forgotten and is also something that inspired her to create the same opportunity for others. For this reason, her sailing crews on two special Sunday afternoons included several young people from the HomeBridge Community who were stepping onto a sail boat for the very first time.
“Growing up in a situation not so different than many in the HomeBridge Community, I understand the complex emotions that affect the young people,” explained Captain Roland. “For me, sailing was always a respite from the stress and chaos around me, and a chance to try to re-center and re-evaluate. The symbolism of adjusting our sails to the prevailing conditions is an ethos that is directly transferable into the rest of life, as is a constant consciousness of our personal safety and the safety of those around us. I couldn't think of anything more meaningful to me than having the privilege of giving this back to an at-risk population.”
This was the inspiration for a pilot program called Bridges Over Water. Captain Roland and Canadian Youth Sailing Coach, Augustin Ferrario put their heads together earlier this year and realized they had the connections and reach to coordinate a program that could provide the opportunity for vulnerable youth to learn the basics of sailing and head out for an open sea experience. This resulted in two Sunday sessions in September where young people from the HomeBridge Community joined Captain Roland, Mr. Ferrario, and two of his youth sailors to become the crew of two boats from the RCYS’s J22 fleet.
Understanding the fear and hesitation the young people may experience when presented with this opportunity, Captain Roland and Mr. Ferrario came to the HomeBridge Community first and met with any interested youth over pizza to talk about what to expect. This made them familiar to the young people and helped to encourage them to give the program a try. After the first sail, the young people themselves then became champions of the program, telling everyone who would listen how amazing it was.
“I hope the youth felt proud and relieved when they let themselves be vulnerable and I hope they had a positive experience,” said Captain Roland. “I hope they felt at peace on the water. Most of all, I hope they had fun and felt the benefits of taking some time to connect with the natural world around us.”
After each sail the crews gathered at the yacht squadron for a meal and some time together to discuss the experience. The Youth Care Workers who accompanied the young people said this time together was almost as meaningful as the sailing itself as everyone just hung out as one big crew, telling stories and laughing about funny things that happened out on the sea. The young people who took part were all presented with a certificate congratulating them on their participation and a photo of themselves “crewing” their vessel. There was definitely a sense of connection that came out of this shared experience which inspired everyone involved to look forward. The life jackets were barely packed up when Captain Roland and Mr. Ferrario started planning even bigger and better things for the program next year.
“I am very excited about the future of Bridges Over Water and am teeming with ideas of how to best implement our goals as we move forward,” she said. “Our program this year was small, but I look forward to building more secure relationships with participants, facilitating more training, and having the opportunity to foster an environment in which we can start to build a real sense of belonging and community.”
We would like to thank Captain Roland and Mr. Ferrario for developing this program as it was very meaningful to the young people who took part. We would also like to join them in thanking the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron, the youth sailors, Coach Cece, Captain Flair, Grillmaster Cedric, Sobeys and Alexandra’s Pizza for all doing their part to make Captain Roland’s vision come to life. We cannot wait for sailing season to begin next year because we now have some experienced sailors in the HomeBridge Community.