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Vermont sailing camp aims to boost diversity, inclusivity in historically White sport

Vermont camp helps change the face of sailing
Sailing camp offers free lessons to help diversify the future of the sport 05:19

Siblings Robert and Mabel White are used to charting their own course. The two are often the only minorities seen sailing on Lake Champlain. For the pair, sailing is a way for them to clear their minds.

"This is a refreshing feeling to have just being on the lake and sailing," Robert White told CBS News' Adriana Diaz.

Sailing has been a part of the siblings' lives since they were 6 years old. The two are now determined to change the face of the sport, which has been historically seen as too White, expensive, elitist and exclusionary. 

In 2020, US Sailing stated in a report that 0.1% of the sailing population is diverse.

Owen Milne runs the Community Sailing Center in Burlington, Vermont. He said that the center wants to undo the damage that has happened in the sport, including a time when there was a "Whites Only" sign on the front door of a yacht club.

Last year, the center started providing free sailing camps to kids from diverse backgrounds to better reflect the community, which includes refugees and immigrants from places like Nepal and Congo.

Before the initiative, no more than six out of 500 of the community center's sailing campers were not White.

"Five or six out of 500 is not OK. We're on track to hopefully get to 25% in the next few years and we think we can get there," Milne said.

To get there, the camp began advertising in seven different languages, including Arabic, Somali and Nepali to find more campers like Adam Alamatouri.

The Syrian native now gets to kayak and sail on the lake for free. 

"It's very fun to just go out in the water. I used to be scared of water, but now I could just jump in right now," Adam said.

The idea for the camp to tackle its diversity problem came after the death of George Floyd. 

"It's unfortunate that it took an uprising for this to end up on the front of our consciousness. But the reality of it is we don't want it to slip away. So that's why we've made this promise to these families that will extend out decades," Milne said. 

Donations help diverse students like Finn Shonstrom with a month of sailing camp for four years straight — which usually costs around $7,000.

"When my mom told me, like, 'Four weeks, four years,' I was like, 'Wait, wait, wait, wait. You must be getting something wrong. That's crazy,'" Finn recalled.

But Milne said that the classes don't end once the four years are over. He said that once students turn 15, they can work at the camp as junior instructors.

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