Youth Marine Foundation awarded $500,000 grant

// Funds slated to take youth programs to next level

The non-profit Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation has a real reason to celebrate with its win of a $500,000 grant last month from the Seattle Foundation. The funds come at a perfect time, as the foundation is poised to reach new heights of excellence in its mission to get youth out on the water to learn seamanship and the opportunities that are available in the maritime trades.

Malcolm Russell is executive director of the Youth Marine Foundation. He said the funds would be used to support the Tacoma Youth Marine Center’s fleet of program and training vessels and toward a significant remodel of the center’s main administration building. This would be in addition to the center’s new training facility already in place and the recent redesign and rebuild of the center’s docks. All of this, combined with the foundation’s dedicated board of directors and Russell’s hiring two years ago, place the foundation in a new light for developing even greater visions of what the foundation can do for young men and women in its programs.

“We’ve been relatively under the radar here in Tacoma, but with the addition of the new facility and the infrastructure we’ve spent the last several years getting in place – the new training building, our docks and the ships – we’re ready to go to that next level,” Russell said. “This grant is a big deal and is recognizing all the work that’s gone into things to now.”

Upon completion of the administration building, it will be named the Keith Birkenfeld Maritime Building, after the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust of the Seattle Foundation from where the funds came. With the total project budget currently at about $450,000 and $250,000 coming from the grant, the foundation will seek further grants and donations to secure the remaining $200,000. “The fact that we’ve raised over half the funding needed now bodes well for generating matching funds,” Russell said. BCRA Architects and Korsmo Construction, both of Tacoma, are the project developers for what will be a significant improvement along the shores of the Foss Waterway.

Remodeling of the building will make for a bigger training area and add additional office space to attract other non-profit or maritime focused groups to sublease space. This would help supplement Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation’s income, along with the continued operation of the Tacoma Fuel Dock and Commencement Bay Marine Services, the profits from which go directly to support the Tacoma Youth Marine Center. Additional funds are generated through private donations, public grants and minimal program fees.

The other $250,000 of the $500,000 grant will go to support the maintenance and capital needs of the Tacoma Youth Marine Center’s three main training ships: Odyssey, Charles N. Curtis and Vèritè. The Vèritè is a 38 foot 18th century replica built by youth here in Tacoma. With its mast being the tallest mast in the South Sound, the 90-foot yawl Odyssey is affectionately known as “Tacoma’s own tall ship” and is the largest Sea Scout sailing vessel in the country, while the 78-foot motor vessel Curtis is the longest continuously serving Sea Scout ship in the United States. Both are U.S. Coast Guard certified vessels.

“The nice thing for us is that by having the Coast Guard standards, we train our kids to that level so they have to learn GPS, navigation and radar. They’re training to a professional level,” Russell said. “Because they’re trained to that level, any of our kids can go to the Bahamas, the Mediterranean or anywhere they do charters and become a paid crew member as a job opportunity.” Many stay in the Puget Sound area as future recreational boaters on the waterfront, future yacht club members and the engines of future marine related service and retail around the Puget Sound. “And many of our youth go on to higher education and opportunities in the maritime economy working for the state ferry system, for local companies like Foss or at our ports, and they are also manning our Coast Guard stations and serving our country in the Navy or Marines.”

The grant will allow for these ships to be sustained for years to come by funding large capital needs such as new engines, sails, electronics and safety equipment.

“Items like these are expensive but once installed will serve the program for years or decades,” Russell said. For example, the old motor in the Odyssey has served the vessel well for more than 40 years. A new, well-maintained motor will last for 30 years or longer and new sails can last up to 15 years. “That is more good news for Tacoma in that our ability to serve youth and the community for years and decades to come is much improved.”

Perhaps most importantly, the half-million dollar grant will give a real boost the Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation’s 138 Sea Scouts, a branch of the Boy Scouts for maritime interests. The Sea Scouts program is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year.

“From Sea Scouts, kids can get into the Coast Guard or Navy or any service branch, or work on the state ferry service or up in Alaska or go to Cal Maritime (California Maritime Academy), which is the Harvard of maritime education institutions on the West Coast,” Russell said. “We have three kids going there this year and many, many that have gone there in the past.”

Young people are needed for maritime work, Russell said, as the current maritime trades workforce continues to age.

“If you look at the demographics of the people in maritime trades, 10 years ago it was 40 (years old), five years ago it was 47 and now it’s getting closer to 50. They’re seeing a pattern and saying we need more people to get engaged in maritime trades. We see ourselves as a pipeline to feed that entry as well.

“When you connect the dots that the Puget Sound, Port of Tacoma and entire marine economy is dependent on new people coming in and filling those jobs, new people buying boats, new people joining yacht clubs, new people buying equipment and being out here on the water and supplying our maritime history with a future, you understand the pipeline that we’re feeding.”

The Youth Marine Foundation and the Sea Scouts themselves consistently recruit young people from area schools, church groups, Boys and Girls Club and any group interested in what the Tacoma Youth Marine Center has to offer, and at very affordable rates. Now with the Foundation on solid financial footing for the future, more young people will reap the benefits, as will all of Tacoma.

“Our Sea Scout program is the best in the nation, as far as I’m concerned, our programs to get kids out on the water are running and established, our partnerships are solid, we’ve got our training building, our new docks, we’ve got our facility, we’ve got our 30-year lease with the Port…we’re ready to go to the next step,” Russell said.

Learn more at http://youthmarinefoundation.org.

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