Spending nine days on a 52-foot-long sail boat might seem like an exotic adventure accessible to few children but Heart of the Storm is giving teenagers the chance to sail the waters and explore the communities off the coast of Maine.
No matter a child's financial status, Heart of the Storm wants to give them the chance to experience their program that helps them connect with their peers, community, and most importantly, themselves.
Nielsen van Duijn, Co-Founder, explains that, "Heart of the Storm is a program that is designed for youth. We're trying to get to the financially disadvantaged youth, the kids that would ordinarily not be able to get out on the water and that's an all-inclusive group."
He continues, emphasizing that, "Kids can come out on the boat if they have money or if they don't have money, we're just trying to get local kids out on to the water to give them an opportunity to learn about themselves and learn about the environment."
The goal of the program is to connect with teenagers in the local community of Blue Hill and its surrounding areas. While these may not be children who are at risk of failing grades and leaving school, Heart of the Storm works with teenagers who might otherwise fall through the cracks; those who appear, from the outside, to be perfectly happy but who could be going through more than they are sharing.
"During the teenage years, we feel like it's turbulent, it's a turbulent time, there's a storminess in kids, and so we want to kind of go to the heart, to that center place because in the center of the storm is where the calm is," says Christina Montano, Co-Founder.
Van Duijn and Montano want to show each and every child that they are important and that there are people around them who can help no matter what situations they are going through.
With the goal of connecting with the children and becoming part of their support system before they reach truly difficult situations in their lives, Heart of the Storm hopes to prevent a child in their community from feeling lost and alone.
Although it is a young program, Heart of the Storm already has a tried and tested schedule for each of its outings.
Each journey takes nine days and is split into three parts. The first part, consisting of the first three days, is taken up by the traveling to the island community. "While we're traveling there, we meet in formal discussion groups and there's a lot of sitting around and just enjoying," says Van Duijn.
The first few days also give the participants the chance to get to know each other. Most have never met each other or are simply known to each other by sight, and it is the chance to get to know the other teenagers around them.
For the next three days, the group spend time with the members of the island community, including speaking to and learning about a leader of that community.
By spending time with members of the island communities, the participants are able to learn more about the various people who, though they live just a small distance apart, they have most probably never met.
"When you break their normal environment," says Van Duijn, "you bring them out into this environment and you're showing them how to draw or you're picking up garbage on the side of the beach or you're helping ... an old woman fix her drafty porch for the winter, and there's appreciation there."
Van Duijn and Montano also want to emphasize the connection the teenagers can build with the environment around them and the responsibility they have towards it. The boat used by HOTS was chosen because, far from being a new boat made of fiberglass, it is an older, more traditional boat, made of more easily recycled materials.
"This is a boat that was built with basically turn of the 20th Century technology," says Van Duijn, "and it's wood, it's a solid wood vessel, plank on frame, very traditional way of building and it's got a big ship feeling, it's got that romance."
The final three days are spent traveling back to their departure point. "That's a time when we're talking about the connection between their home and that community," says Van Duijn, "and what are the parallels and what are the differences and how far it seems like we had to travel to get to this place that was maybe only 10 nautical miles away, you know, and yet it's another world.
While the participants learn the basics of sailing, the emphasis is not on sailing skills. The Heart of the Storm journey uses the boat a both a literal and metaphorical vehicle for connecting with the teenagers.
Montano explains that, "You step off of land and get on the boat, that is an amazing, amazing thing in itself because all of a sudden, everything falls away so then you become after a time, kind of tuned into the nature around you and you start to see that it's all, we're all one and we're all connected."
The trip exposes its participants to a new world that they have never experienced before, both on the boat and on the island, and challenges them to think about their communities differently.
It also challenges their view of themselves and pushes them to try even more new experiences throughout the nine days. Learning to draw using charcoal found in an abandoned camp fire is an experience foreign to most.
Participant Tyler Ray says that, "When I was a kid, my dad would always have me try one new thing every dinner and after a while I just started liking everything and it just gave me the confidence to try new things like this sailing. I've never been sailing before and I just really like sailing now."
Taking these teenagers away from the world and pressures that they are so used to gives them the opportunity to explore any concerns or difficulties they are going through with an impartial voice.
Van Duijn emphasizes that the goal is to give the participants the confidence to believe in themselves as well as the knowledge that there will always be someone there to help them. "At the end of the day it's really about making a connection that feels like it's going to last."
"There's a lot going on in the world. It's kind of like a storm but, as with every storm, if you can find the center of the storm, then you can find yourself in a place where you can stay tuned in to the storm in a very good and positive way but you have a perspective of calmness. You have a place where you can stand."
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