Rowing Through Life
Navigating life may feel like rowing against a rough current for many kids growing up in the poorer areas of New York.If they even think about it at all, inner city kids may view the actual feat of rowing as something pursued only by those with more means.
Enter Row New York. Since 2002, this program has been helping under-privileged youth(and adults) in Manhattan and Queens excel at rowing and in academics. Thousands of kids have benefited over the years, and according to Jennie Trayes, the director of programs and operations, 230 middle and high school students enjoyed the benefits of another successful summer season this year.
Row New York has a staff of 25; its board includes people from companies such as Goldman Sachs, former U.S. National Rowers, and former Olympic coxswains. Each fall, the program searches for new recruits through teachers and other connections at schools. They also participate in many community events to get the word out about Row New York’s adult and para-rowing programs, and post on Facebook, Twitter and their website. In late September, would-be rowers try out in Manhattan and Queens for the program (when the weather turns cold, activities move indoors — rowing machines keep cardiovascular health high).
Around 80 percent of the kids selected for the program are recruited from under-served schools in Queens and Manhattan, and the rest come from “any private, Catholic, or high performing public school in the city, so our program is truly diverse,”says Trayes. “To identify our schools whose kids we’d like to recruit,” she adds, “we look for high diversity, high rates of free or reduced lunch, and low college preparedness (low ELA and Math regents scores).” Along with its other resources, Row New York uses a site called InsideSchools.org to find the stats that helps it pinpoint where the program would most benefit students.
The Row New York coaches teach the selected students how to row and swim. Participating kids row in two locations, Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, and in the Harlem River in Washington Heights, Manhattan.
However, it isn’t all rowing for the kids — Row New York develops the minds as well as the bodies of seventh through 12th graders. The middle and high school programs continue year-round, with older teenagers focused on SAT prep and younger ones on improving their literacy. An emphasis on academics and athletics has given past student-rowers the chance to attend some very desirable colleges, such as Colby College, Dartmouth College, Bucknell University, and UMass Amherst.
Adults who join the program stay busy during the summer, racing in Philadelphia on the Cooper River, and in the Peter Jay Sharp regatta in Manhattan. Unlike kids, the only requirement for an adult to join the program is the ability to pay $100.00. Trayes says that the adult learn-to-row programs are very popular, with most participants getting the hang of it very quickly.
Row New York also has recreational and competitive para-rowing programs for kids aged 12 and older with both physical and cognitive disabilities. The recreational program meets once a week year-round and is geared towards teaching the basics of rowing,while the competitive program meets three times a week and competes three or four times a year in regional competitions.
Finding students who’d most benefit from the Row New York program — and then sustaining them — often proves difficult, as funds for this 501c3 non-profit organization are limited.“The biggest challenge year to year is raising money to support our free youth and para-rowing programs,” Trayes said. “While we have learned to do it really well (our budget is almost $2 million), it is always an exciting challenge.”
Another hurdle to overcome is finding volunteers to tutor both the middle and high schoolers. “Generally, though, we’re a pretty reflective staff that when faced with challenges take action to make things better,” Trayes says. She gave an example where they realized that kids were missing some practices because they didn’t have the means of transportation to get there, so the staff adapted bybringingsome students to practice themselves,andprovidedothers with MetroCards for public transportation.
What type of volunteers does Trayes seek for Row New York? “We usually look for hardworking and committed volunteers who are really good with kids and/or people with disabilities.” Though it would be great if the volunteers already knew how to row, Trayes says that caring and dedicated people with the ability to create positive relationships can be taughtthe basics of rowing.
For Trayes and all those involved in Row New York, there’s a lot to be proud of with all the programs. “We started our high school programs in 2002 and our middle school programs in 2010,” she explains, “with the idea that the younger we can get our student-athletes, the more impact our rowing and academic programs and staff can have on their lives.”
To assist Row New York’s efforts to bring more under-served New Yorkers into the boats and successfully navigate life’s currents, the program is always looking for more recruits, volunteers, and funds.“Getting the word out about our organization with a message for people to get involved is always helpful!” Trayes says. “This way, if people want to volunteer their time or donate to a non-profit in the city, Row New York is an option for them.”
For more information, visit http://rownewyork.org/.
By Michael Griffin