Rocking the Boat during the COVID Pandemic

by | Oct 17, 2020 | Editor's Pick, Featured, Philanthropy


Rocking the Boat

We believe in giving back to our community and city. When you are a publication it becomes difficult to dig into your pockets for every great charity program. Rather, our part is to inform our readers of the causes that we have worked with and believe in.

Rocking the boat is one of the many programs that we feel is solid for you to invest your time and money. Launching in 1996 as a volunteer project in an East Harlem junior high school, Rocking the Boat worked under the aegis of New Settlement Apartments, which provided both workshop space and students for the cornerstone Boatbuilding Program.

They incorporated as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2001,

Rocking the Boat continued to cultivate relationships with a wide variety of community-based, educational, environmental, cultural, and historical organizations, and over the years have expanded their size and scope of its services.

Namely, the On-Water Education Program which is near and dear to our hearts. This was added in 2002, the On-Water Classroom in 2005, the Job Skills Program in 2006, Community Rowing in 2007, and the Sailing Program in 2015.

This year with the pandemic we were worried as to how this and many children/young adults charity programs would manage. The word for 2020 seems to be Virtual.

Rocking the Boat was brought to the attention of Downtown by one of our subscribers, and close friends Alies van den Berg

Here’s our conversation with Rocking the Boat Development Director, Jaye Pockriss

DTM: Give us the rundown on how the virtual RTB is going this year and are the participants only walking or running this year or are they doing other activities like Rowan get home or cycling?

RTB: They are walking, running, rowing, kayaking, sailing, cycling, hiking.  One woman is riding an adult trike because she has multiple sclerosis.  At least two participants are volunteering to encourage voting in the election.  One woman is knitting, another gardening.  Some dudes are golfing.

DTM: Do you have as many participants and donors?

RTB: We have the most participants ever, roughly 200, and they are from more places across the country (Texas, California) capitalizing on the “anywhere and everywhere” aspect of this year’s event.  Going into the final weekend, 1,700 gifts have been received so far, on par with last year.

DTM: With all the many charitable organizations popping up, why would you encourage our readers to support RTB?

RTB: We can go in a couple of directions here…Rocking the Boat’s South Bronx neighborhood, Hunts Point, is in the poorest congressional district in the nation. Students here need comprehensive and sustained services to contend with the disadvantage of under-resourced schools, and the too frequent lack of adequate family support.

Despite having become synonymous with urban decay and pollution, the Bronx boasts some outstanding natural features including the oldest forest and the only true river in New York City. These spaces are home to a wide variety of trees, plants, fish, land animals, and birds. Rocking the Boat programs intimately connects Hunts Point youth to their environment by helping them enjoy it and giving them the skills to care for it.


Rocking the Boat during the COVID Pandemic

Leola Specht and Jeff Scales


Rocking the Boat students work together to build wooden boats, learn to row and sail, and restore local urban waterways, revitalizing their community while creating better lives for themselves.

Rocking the Boat is committed to helping its participants:

  • Stay in high school until they graduate or receive an equivalency diploma—on average 96% of Rocking the Boat students graduate from high school on time; the rate is an alarming 17.8% in Hunts Point generally
  • Enroll in college or trade school and be prepared academically and emotionally to succeed there—nearly 100% growth in social-emotional competency and enroll in a post-secondary program directly out of high school
  • Develop technical skills such as sailing, boat handling, navigating, chart reading, carpentry, sample collection and testing, scientific observation, and recording data, all of which reinforce STEM concepts and put them into a practical context
  • Develop soft skills such as leadership, communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking
Rocking the Boat during the COVID Pandemic

Team members from Flotsam and Jetsam

DTM: What would you like our readers to know about your organization in order to get them involved?

RTB: Rocking the Boat kept rocking. Virtually, at the onset of the pandemic and on through the summer. We know that the current circumstances could change at any moment, but at the same time, we are excited to have resumed in-person youth development programming as of September 21.  We have confidence that our hands-on boatbuilding, environmental science, and sailing experiences are exactly what our participants need right now.  We are lucky that building, rowing, and sailing boats all take place in spaces—a 2,500 square foot shop with 15′ foot ceilings and outdoors on the Bronx River—that offer plenty of space to spread out and fresh air to breathe. Comprehensive distancing and sanitizing procedures are in place and will be strictly enforced to keep everyone safe.


Rocking the Boat during the COVID Pandemic

Thom Thacker



Rocking the Boat engages over 200 teens per year in a series of STEM-based programs that last throughout their high school careers and into college. Participants enter as freshmen and sophomores and choose from one of three programs: Boatbuilding, Environmental Science, or Sailing. They move from being students to paid apprentices to alumni once they graduate high school, at which point they are eligible to work part-time for Rocking the Boat as Program Assistants.


Rocking the Boat during the COVID Pandemic

Troy Messenger


In addition, roughly 4,000 local residents take part in Rocking the Boat’s free weekend rowing events and school-driven programs, most often through their math and science classes. 200 teens and 4,000 community members per year, this is a huge feat!

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