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Ocean Community Chamber names Lobdell as its Citizen of the Year

Stonington — The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce announced Monday that it has named Michael “Spike” Lobdell, the founder and president/CEO of New England Science & Sailing in the borough as its 2021 Citizen of the Year. 

The award was established in 1957 to recognize outstanding leadership and contributions to the greater Westerly-Stonington area.

In selecting a person to honor, the chamber said it considers leadership in the community, contributions in business and civic/nonprofit organizations, promoting the community image, improving the area's quality of life, along with characteristics such as integrity, creativity and communication skills. 

The award will be presented to Lobdell at the chamber's annual meeting and dinner, scheduled for June 15 at 6 p.m. at Paddy's Beach Club in Misquamicut. The event is open to the public and preregistration is required. More information is available by calling (401) 596-7761.

In announcing the award, Maria Allen, chairperson of the chamber board, said, “Spike is an extraordinary citizen who has made an outstanding contribution to our community. He is a visionary leader who has selflessly dedicated many years of professional expertise and passion to his deep seeded belief in community access to the ocean. He has made NESS a world-class learning platform and has positively impacted the lives of thousands in the process.”

Lobdell founded NESS in 2002 as a community sailing program with just 14 students. Nineteen years later, NESS teaches more than 9,000 students a year with an annual budget of $3 million and 26 full-time employees. During the summer, the organization's staff can number 75.

"Setting this program apart were the core value of inclusion and the vision to get students, who would not have otherwise had the opportunity, out on the water. In particular, he has focused on providing access to underserved youth and persons with disabilities. NESS estimates that its programs have reached more than 50,000 students, empowering them to get out of the water, engage in STEM learning, and acquire life skills that arise from ocean adventure. This experience is transformational for many," chamber President Lisa Konicki wrote in announcing the award.

In November 2018, NESS was accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and during the COVID-19 pandemic, NESS maintained its staff and developed a suite of online experiential learning programs. It also conducted its summer programs last year while complying with COVID-19 precautions. 

In 2016, the National Recreation Foundation awarded Lobdell the Robert Crawford Prize, which honors an individual who has done the most to advance the lives of inner-city youth through recreation. Last year, 2020 US Sailing, the governing body of the sport, gave Lobdell its highest community sailing award.

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