Hope Floats At Seaport Foundation

The Alexandria Seaport Foundation looks and sounds like your everyday, run-of-the-mill woodshop. But as the foundation builds boats, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports, it's also rebuilding lives.

Forty-three-year-old Joe Youcha is the foundation's executive director — and a lifelong boat builder. He created the Seaport Foundation's apprentice program back in 1993, intending to use boat-building as a way to get rudderless teens back on course.

"It was kind of like, 'you're going do what with who and they're going to get what out of it?,'" Youcha says.

Thirteen years later, more than 250 underprivileged kids — from high school dropouts to former gang members — have come through the program.

"The resources the gangs have to work these kids are drugs, sex, money and violence. And what we have is money," Youcha says.

The kids earn $6.50 an hour, $1.35 above minimum wage. They spend half a day building boats and the other half in class, learning intensive math, science and English.

"Schools don't pay kids to learn," Youcha says. "We do."

But these teens had better toe the line.

"If you're late, you work at minimum wage that day. If you miss a day, you work two days at minimum wage," Youcha says. "If you have three violations within a two-week pay period, you're fired."

Eighteen-year-old Dijon was referred to the program through his parole officer.

"One thing that I got out of this, even that the little correctional facilities couldn't do, is some actual discipline," Dijon says. "I know for a fact, if I was not here, then I would probably be dead or doing a long term (in jail)."

The foundation has a success rate of 75 percent, and three-quarters of those who complete the five-month program graduate with a general equivalency diploma in one hand and a carpenter's union card in the other.

Retired juvenile court judge Steve Rideout says the Seaport Foundation has helped cut Alexandria's delinquency rate in half.

"They become employable instead of a burden on our society where we got to lock them up," Rideout says. "So we need those kinds of programs to help those kids because we can save them."

While money may be a major motivation, the foundation's volunteer staff provides something else these kids desperately need: role models.

"The young hair gets to rub up against the grey hair. And then what happens is, those kids start picking up some of the attitudes," Youcha says. "What we do, fundamentally, is take these disenfranchised kids and get them a start on that path to the American dream."
  • Melissa McNamara

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