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Building Boats Helps At-Risk Young Adults Improve Their Lives

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The art of building small wooden boats is being used to help young, at-risk adults in the United States. These young men and women are being trained and working as apprentices in a boat building program in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Alexandria Seaport Foundation is providing support for the program, which serves the Washington, D.C. area. It aims to help those who have little hope of attending college or finding a good-paying job. The goal is to give young people the skills, state of mind and self-control to change their lives for the better.

The year-round program teaches small groups of people how to build small wooden sailboats and canoes. The apprentices are from 18 to 22 years old.

One apprentice is 19-year-old Chris Adkins from Florida. He is learning what it takes to build boats that are beautiful and useful, with hammers, saws and other tools.

'It's been fun to learn how to use these tools,' he said.

Jimmy Gottfried is the head of the boat-building program. He once served as a boat-building apprentice.

'Many of the apprentices in our program have faced many challenges in their life, such as lack of family support, dropping out of school, having run-ins with the law. And they're looking for a way to gain back the confidence they need to go back out into the workforce.'

The apprentices are guided by volunteers who teach them how to build the boats, as well as guide the young people in their personal lives.

Some of the apprentices have yet to finish high school. The Alexandria Seaport Foundation works to help them prepare for and pass a series of tests called the GED. Passing the GED is comparable to having completed high school.

Apprentices who struggle with mathematics receive help from a volunteer teacher.

Adkins says he was a good student in high school. But he had to leave school to work because of family issues.

'My mom died when I was 8-years-old, so that's always something that's on me. One reason that I came to the program was because they want to help you. I'm not used to someone wanting to help me, or enthusiastic about it...'

Jay Helinski completed the program about one year ago. He speaks of his own experiences as a model for the group.

'And they know that I'm living proof of what hard work, dedication, and just the willpower to succeed gets you to.'

Adkins is now more than halfway through his apprenticeship. He says he feels better about himself. He has passed his high school equivalency and hopes to go to college one day.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Deborah Block reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

apprentice – n. a person who learns a job or skill by working for a fixed period of time for someone who is very good at that job or skill

confidence – n. a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something

run-in – n. an angry argument

enthusiastic – adj. feeling or showing strong excitement about something; filled with or marked by enthusiasm

dedication – n. self-sacrifice

challenge – n. a difficult test or problem

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