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Sailing Program Helps Change Lives In Boston

BOSTON (CBS) - Newton native John Dorr first heard about Community Boating's Universal Access program (UAP) from the doctors at his rehab hospital. Even after growing up in the Boston area, he had never heard of the Charles River-based program before.

He joined in July and seven lessons in, he already says it's changed the course of his life. The learn-to-sail program has offered him new skills, confidence, and an appreciation of what it takes to move on the water.

"It looks fairly simple when you look and see a sailboat, but in fact it is not simple at all," Dorr says. Being in command of his own sailboat, even with an instructor on board helping out, he says, is  "an opportunity of a lifetime."

WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong reports

Now in its fifth year, Universal Access is busier than ever. More than 350 people with a wide range of disabilities will became sailors this summer alone.

Members can go out one-on-one with an instructor, or take friends and family on the experience, too.

"It is an activity that's open to all," explains program director Marcin Kunicki.

"We specifically don't say the word disabled or handicapped. It's anyone and everyone who needs helping getting into a boat...or just being out on the water enjoying the beautiful weather."

Community Boating took some flak this winter when it increased some of its fees. For decades, the youth sailing program there was available for one dollar per person. This year, the organization put a sliding scale in place, charging $100 or $200 for families who make more than $75,000 or $95,000 respectively. (Families who make less are still eligible for the one dollar price.) The revenue generated from that fee helps ensure that all the sailing equipment stays top-notch. It also helped to build a new dock (with a handicapped accessible section for the Universal Access program). Part of the money helps to make sure the Universal Access program stays well-subsidized; participants of the UAP still pay a dollar for the season.

The goal with some of the participants is to get them so comfortable with sailing, they can go out by themselves.

John Dorr is almost there.

"Well I'm not done yet," he shouts from the side of his sailboat. "I told Paul [one of his instructors] I'm going to go to the ocean after this. That's my next goal."

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