It's early on a cold April morning, only 7:30 a.m. That's what time the day starts for apprentices—or they face a reduction in their hourly wage. But, Andrew is wide awake and ready to go. He's a new apprentice, and has only been with the Alexandria Seaport Foundation (ASF) for two months, and his enthusiasm is infectious.
"I love it," he says. "Every day is different. The time goes by so fast."
School didn't hold Andrew's attention at age 17, when he dropped out and started living on his own. He was holding down three jobs to make ends meet when his mother saw an ad for ASF's apprentice program on television and suggested Andrew call them. He liked to do things with his hands, had always liked the water, and used to be a lifeguard. Andrew called the number on a Monday and on Tuesday started the program.
Andrew quickly found his hours divided between the academic classroom, the hands-on math and science classroom, and the workshop, where he worked alongside program staff and volunteers. Andrew says he likes that everyone has their own story and has experienced ups and downs just like he has—many equally or more difficult than his own.
"It just makes you want to work harder when you hear what other people have been through and that they are here," he says.
ASF takes young men ages 17–21 who have found themselves at a dead-end—using drugs, dropping out of school, getting in trouble with the law—and points them in a new direction. As apprentices, they get the tools to build strong futures and lead successful lives. Joe Youcha, executive director of ASF, knows providing learning alternatives for youth like Andrew is important to helping them succeed.
"79 percent of kids are told they are failures if they don't go to a four-year college," Youcha says. "But the definition of success must change for those 79 percent."
While boat building is what is most visibly taught at ASF, it is far from all that is learned. Equally important are the life skills students develop that help ensure a successful transition into the work force. ASF's apprentices learn responsibility and accountability, discipline, self-confidence, communication skills, and team-building. Those who successfully master these skills become apprentices in the carpenter's union through a special relationship between the two organizations; others move on to non-union work. ASF also supports the educational needs of students like Andrew with on-site academic classes in GED preparation.
To Andrew, the most important thing he has learned is to take control of his own life and be more responsible. "It's helping to get my life started," he says with a smile. "I will never forget this place."
Through the building and use of wooden boats, the Alexandria Seaport Foundation helps at-risk youth turn their lives around and provides families, community groups, and schools with meaningful educational, social, and recreational experiences. Full-time apprentices earn their GED and prepare for a career in the building trades. The latest additions to our program include vocational training in green construction, a summer program, and an afterschool program. Learn more about Alexandria Seaport Foundation.