Alexandria, VA – The staff and apprentices at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation were used to receiving commission requests to build boats, kayaks, and canoes. Then they got a request that veered a bit off course.
A few blocks away, the folks at Union Street Pub wanted to cover an opening in the upstairs dining room near the kitchen doors. They approached the Seaport Foundation about installing some sails to act as a divider between the kitchen door, bar, and dining room.
Seaport Director of Operations Jimmy Gottfried said, “Slowly the project evolved into a more elaborate display, with mast and boom, multiple sails and rigging, and an overall effort to make it look like a time-period piece.”
Gottfried depended on advice and assistance from the apprentices who were assigned to the project. The Apprentice Program at Seaport employs young people, ages 16-22, who have found themselves on the margins of society and are looking to make a better life.
In addition to boat-building, carpentry and math skills, apprentices learn essential life skills, such as communication and speaking with confidence, personal finance and budgeting, resume writing and interviewing, and GED preparation and study for those who enter the program without a high school diploma.
As apprentice Amber explained, “Besides the curriculum, the Seaport has taught me more about myself. After so many difficulties learning in school, my confidence was shot and I never thought I’d achieve my goals because I couldn’t learn anything. But working here at the Seaport, I have learned so much! More than the power tools, woodworking, and math skills, what I’ve really learned is that I do indeed have the ability to learn. And that’s been huge for me.”
Apprentice Jason Argueta also worked on the Union Street project, and he praised the impact of the Seaport’s Apprentice Program on him personally. “I’ve learned hands-on skills that I can now use in any workshop,” he said, “and thanks to the leadership here at the Seaport, I know the discipline and good work ethics I’ve learned here will help me for the rest of my life, both personally and professionally.”
Gottfried was grateful to be able to depend on the input from the apprentices as the project grew in size and scope. The design expanded and became more complicated as it changed. “The apprentices had great contributions, great ideas, and even through the pandemic, they kept at it and got the job done. It came out beautifully and the restaurant is very satisfied with it and impressed with the work.”
Union Street Pub owner Jay Testa said, “The Seaport Foundation Apprentices were a delight to work with…personable, professional, really a nice group. They were very invested in the project and seemed excited to be doing something a bit different than what they typically do. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with them.”
Al Chadsey, general manager of the pub, agreed. “What’s most impressive is the attention to detail in the project. They spent a lot of time crafting to make it look antique, hand-carved,” he said. “I tend to doubt they’re actually done – I’m always finding new additions to it.”
The end result is a stunner. Not only does it solve the problem of separating the dining room from the bustling kitchen, it’s a beautiful piece of art, representing fine craftsmanship, collaboration, and community. Even the knots are seaworthy.
Seaport Executive Director Kathy Seifert is thrilled with the project, and so proud of the staff and apprentices who made it happen. “The Seaport Foundation welcomes the opportunity to serve our community by sharing the apprentice’s woodworking skills with neighbors. The confidence and pride apprentices gain in creating projects like the Union Street boat are critical components of the Apprentice Program curriculum,” she said.
The Seaport Foundation’s primary goal in 2020-21 is to increase its donor base by 25 percent in order to meet the many needs of an Apprentice Program that is already filled to capacity and a growing population of young people who are facing many challenges, which are only exacerbated by the pandemic. “We encourage anyone who would like to support our important work to visit www.alexandriaseaport.org and sign up for a recurring monthly contribution of any amount,” Seifert said.
For a glimpse of how important this work truly is, look no farther than Amber, who credits the Apprentice Program with turning her life around. The despair and depression she once felt have been replaced with hope and certainty for her future. Amber is ready to carry the confidence she’s gained with her. “I really love how the Seaport is geared toward helping people reach their goals, no matter what age they are. Seaport does have a therapeutic quality that I appreciate.”