NESS gets kids out on the water

On a sparkling summer day in Stonington Borough, a flotilla of small red, orange and lime green sailboats with tiny skippers at the tillers make small laps in the harbor, while a group of children on a nearby dock prepare to head out on paddle boards and still others carefully maneuver windsurfers. After completing their activities on the water, the youngsters flock to nearby classrooms to study sea critters or delve into hands-on marine-oriented science projects.

This is a typical summer day scene at New England Science & Sailing’s bustling and newly expanded waterfront campus. While a variety of camps and institutions such as the Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium offer great opportunities for kids and adults to get wet and learn about aquatic environments, NESS deserves especially high praise for its particularly inclusive and expansive model that now makes the group a regionwide asset for both children and adults.

By collaborating with more than 100 organizations and schools and by running programs at seven locations between Westerly and New London, NESS has benefitted some 4,700 children and adults in 2015 and more than 4,000 to date in 2016. More than 300 children last summer learned to sail at no cost as part of NESS-operated New London Community Boating.

That’s a lot of potential future boaters and scientists to help fuel Connecticut’s economy.

NESS is a relatively young organization, founded in 2002 as a community sailing program with just 14 participants. Originally part of the Stonington Harbor Yacht Club, NESS is now an independent entity. In June the organization opened its newly renovated sailing center at the former Garbo lobster pound. The $400,000 renovation of that building, funded through private donations, allowed for more classroom and instruction space, as well as storage for boats and other equipment. The building also is handicapped-access compliant, allowing NESS soon to begin offering adaptive sailing classes to physically challenged children.

NESS, under the leadership of founder and president Spike Lobdell, focuses on inclusion. More than half of NESS students received some type of financial aid in 2015, for example, and Lobdell is especially proud that many were introduced to the ocean and boating through NESS. The organization is also working with New London Public Schools to ensure all students learn how to swim.

“Many of these kids never were on the water before,” Lobdell said of NESS participants.

Offering free and reduced-cost programming is no easy feat for an organization dependent for survival on the largesse of individuals and foundations with lots of options of where to donate money.

It was announced this week that Lobdell will receive the National Recreation Foundation's 2016 Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize in recognition of his service to the youth of New England. He will be formally presented with the award in November in San Antonio, Texas.

We commend Lobdell and all the dedicated NESS staff. The organization deserves not only praise, however, but also community financial support, given the future potential for high achievement it fosters for so many of the region’s children. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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