During a semester off from college, Adam Green was volunteering at a middle school in East Harlem.
“The teacher there said he’d had this dream to build a boat with his kids, but had never had the time to do it,” Green told CNN. “(He) wondered if I wanted to take on the job.”
Green, who grew up in New York, knew nothing about building boats, but armed with a set of plans and a bunch of salvaged wood, he and a group of students set out determined to build one. Eight months later, they had constructed a rowboat. When they put it to the test in the school’s pool, their 8-foot dinghy floated.
The experience had such a profound impact, Green was inspired to use the same concept to help other young people in need.
Today, his non-profit, Rocking the Boat, empowers youth from the South Bronx to work together and build wooden boats from scratch. They use them to row and sail and do river restoration.
“Our work is really all about using boats to build kids,” said Green, 41. “We want to give kids a chance to create something of themselves and then be able to go off and succeed out in the rest of the world.”
Many Rocking the Boat students live in or near Hunts Point, one of the roughest areas of the South Bronx. According to the New York State Education Department, only about 42 percent of students in the Hunts Point area graduate high school. Of those, only 12 percent are prepared for college.
Amid the area’s scrap metal yards and industrial warehouses, the organization’s brightly lit workshop and spacious backyard give students a different reality to walk into. Its location also provides easy access to the Bronx River — something many people in the community never knew existed.
“The Bronx River is really one of the most hidden gems of New York City,” Green said. “It has tons of birds and fish and all kinds of native plant life. … It’s this quiet, protected, calm place where young people can grow.”
Rocking the Boat serves more than 3,000 people a year through its broad community programs.