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Hands On Deck: free rides and a culture of creativity

By Mark Hawkins, founder and president of Hands On Deck

“Estuary Connection Opportunities” is our new program offering free rides in a restored vintage wooden boat, as an extension of Green Bay’s Hands On Deck. We created the program to provide matched mentoring pairs with a unique experience of exploring the Fox River and the Bay of Green Bay in a wooden boat. Better yet, the guided 45-minute boat rides are free!

At Hands On Deck, we bring youth and adults together from all over Northeast Wisconsin to build relationships, confidence and boats. With a lot of support from the community so far, the creation of the Estuary Connection Opportunities program is an extension of what we do with our boat-building workshops and youth apprenticeships by taking wooden boats we build or rebuild out on the water. We’re further able to connect our volunteers and public servants with families and youth for this exciting and enriching opportunity to discover the natural beauty and history of our region from perhaps a new perspective while sitting in a boat.

And there’s a classic maritime twist to this life-enhancing adventure for the volunteer mentors and their passengers.

Originally built on the Great Lakes, a fully restored 1949 Lyman Islander wooden boat has already taken a few dozen trips with over 125 enchanted passengers since Hands On Deck started the Estuary Connection Opportunities program in early August.

Christened the “Eva Jean” in honor of my mother and her legacy of serving others, the vintage 18-foot-long lapstrake is the latest of over 13 wooden boats built or reconstructed and maintained by skilled volunteers and students since Hands On Deck started in summer 2016.

With a large boat shop and classroom space at South Bay Marina in Green Bay, Hands On Deck offers year-round classes and programming to engage, educate and empower hundreds of children and families in a longstanding craft. Students get hands-on learning in the science and art of building wooden boats and traditional woodworking, and they also acquire life skills as they are taught by and collaborate with trained adult mentors from the community who volunteer their time and talents to Hands On Deck.

Participants at Hands On Deck this summer joined hands on the restoration of the Eva Jean vessel. The work included the refitting of a 45 horsepower inboard engine, which was built in the 1940s and propels the boat up to 15 mph.

Each subsequent vessel to be used in the Estuary Connection Opportunities program would be built or rebuilt through Hands On Deck’s growing youth apprenticeship program. A primary focus for Hands On Deck is reaching and inspiring at-risk youth, both academically and socially, as the organization partners with a multitude of schools and service groups in the region to build community connections.

A partnership with the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region helped open the door, er, local waterways for Hands On Deck to create the Estuary Connection Opportunities program, thanks to a grant from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund, for which we are most appreciative. Numerous other donors and the contributions of many volunteers is enabling us to bring this unique opportunity not only to mentoring groups but also to nonprofit leaders and public servants, including school teachers.

The no-cost boat rides on the Eva Jean are scheduled to run until early fall this year. Reservations should be made on the Hands On Deck website at handsondeckgb.org/boat-ride. The Eva Jean has been inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard and is insured.


Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.

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