Story by Liesel Schmidt
Photos Courtesy of Alexandria Seaport Foundation
When the Alexandria Seaport Foundation was created in 1982, its focus was simply to honor the maritime heritage of Alexandria as an important seaport town. By 1993, the Foundation had gained an even more important focus: serving at-risk young people in need of direction. To do so, they launched the Apprentice Program, a workforce development program that serves young people from the ages of 17 to 22. Through guidance and adult mentoring as well as project-based learning, the Seaport Foundation provides the career, educational and life skills necessary for these at-risk youth to become thriving, self-sufficient adults who contribute to their communities.
“Our mission is to provide young people in need of direction with a second chance that they very much need,” says Executive Director Kathy Seifert. “Many apprentices have experienced little success in traditional school settings, have been involved with the court system, have dropped out of school or have struggled with substance abuse, anxiety or depression. Some have struggled with a combination of all of those things, making getting ahead extremely difficult. The Apprentice Program provides them a safe and nurturing environment in which to change the trajectory of their lives, attain their GED and gain the life and career skills necessary to successfully and independently move forward.”
With such an important mission driving it, the Foundation and organizations like it are indeed invaluable resources for the local community and changing the direction of the future. “Our young people are struggling, and they need our support,” Seifert says. “Small non-profits can be so powerful in serving this vulnerable population by providing them a safe space, experienced adult mentoring and the life, educational and career skills which are critical to changing the trajectory of their lives and experiencing personal fulfillment and joy.”
Since its establishment, the Seaport Foundation has impacted the lives of hundreds of young people throughout the DC metropolitan area. “Graduate apprentices have entered the military, completed post-secondary school, become boat builders, property managers, construction workers and non-profit leaders,” Seifert notes proudly. “There are very few programs for this age group, as many consider them to be adults—yet when apprentices come to the Seaport Foundation, they lack the majority of tools necessary to navigate the adult world. We provide them with these important skills and guide them as they learn to break the cycle of dependency and become productive, happy members of their community.”
The proof of their efficacy, is, of course, the apprentices themselves—not only in the strides they make in going on to have careers but in other ways. “We experience success every single day in the Apprentice Program, both in big and small ways,” Seifert notes. “When an apprentice shifts their attitude, recognizes that being tardy or absent is unacceptable, begins to take pride in their appearance, consistently abides by the Seaport rules and learns the value of good work ethic, these are all accomplishments. When an apprentice passes their GED test, secures a job or is accepted to college, the military or a post-apprenticeship program, these are all ‘wins.’ It is truly a privilege to lead the Seaport Foundation and witness the miracles that take place every day in young people who once had little or no hope for their futures.”
Naturally, the organization faces challenges—the biggest of which is getting through to the youth who come through their doors. “It’s not easy to change an individual at the age of 17 or 18, when they have been practicing their behavior for years prior to entering the program,” admits Seifert. “Most apprentices have had very little positive adult mentoring, live at or below the poverty line and lack the self-esteem which comes from experiencing personal success and achievements. The individual transitions which occur during the program take time—and a great deal of patience, persistence and resilience on the part of apprentices and staff alike.”
As a non-profit, the Seaport Foundation depends on the support of individual gifts, corporate donations, grants and family foundations for funding. They also hold two annual events—Seaport Day, an all-day waterfront festival with boats, children’s activities, live music, local food, beer, wine and other outdoor/nautical activities held at Waterfront Park in Old Town; and Wine on the Water, a springtime event on the water featuring live music, exceptional wines and charcuterie as well as live and silent auctions.
Plans for the future include expansion to make an even greater impact. The Board of Directors recently approved a three- to five-year strategic plan to double the number of young people served annually, construct a second waterfront facility adjacent to their current Seaport Center to support this growth and resume their Middle School Math Program in local schools—a program which is designed to prevent early dropouts through project-based learning, hands-on math instruction and carpentry. The Seaport Foundation expects to launch a Capital Campaign to fund the new building in early 2022.
To learn more about the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and its events or volunteer opportunities, call 703.778.0977 or visit www.alexandriaseaport.org.