EYSF Supports Project YESS 2012

EYSF supports Project YESS 2012

Giving teens leadership and sailing skills that will last a lifetime

In 2012 EYSF sponsored the Cleveland Rotary Club’s Project YESS with funding to enable a local high school sophomore, Orlando Hopson spending a week sailing Lake Erie aboard the 198-foot US Brig Niagara, and climbing 100-plus foot masts.

The program, Project YESS (Youth Empowered to Succeed through Sailing), is a unique educational adventure that develops courage and confidence in teens. It teaches life lessons and the importance of participating in a community, whether on land or at sea. It is a summer program open to all teens from ages 13 to 17, but has a special focus on underprivileged youth.

“Most of our teens have not seen the lake up close, let alone a tall ship, and many have endured significant life challenges — from homelessness to losing siblings to gang violence,” said Eileen Smotzer, chair for the Rotary Club’s Project YESS Youth Services subcommittee. “Project YESS gets these talented young people out of their comfort zones and opens their eyes to our Great Lake’s beauty and the career opportunities it has to offer.”

Students receive 20 hours of classroom instruction, beginning with an 8-hour leadership boot camp, which helps with team building and sets the stage for future sailing sessions. Later classes focus on sailing knowledge and skills, such as water safety, celestial navigation, chart reading, and knot tying, as well as broader issues, such as the environment, Great Lakes resources, and maritime careers. Students also have the opportunity to participate in weekly practice sails to better prepare for their voyage.

The highlight of the program is always the week-long voyage. And this year’s trip on the US Brig Niagara was no exception.  The ship, led by Captain Wesley Heerssen, provided an exciting setting, and has local significance — it’s the original, reconstructed flagship of Commander Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie.

“As soon as the kids came on board, they were literally full-blown working members of the ship.” Smotzer said. “They slept in hammocks, assisted with the daily work, and even climbed the masts.” Smotzer also stressed the “incredible growth” the teens experienced during the trip.  “They lived in close quarters, which helped them understand how to work with others and take orders,” she said. “It’s amazing to see these kids develop more self-reliance and confidence as they achieve things they never thought they had in them.”

In addition, as working crew-members, the teens learned that their actions directly impact their fellow shipmates – an important lesson they will take with them in their personal and professional lives.

Orlando Hopson, who attends John Adams High School, was a member of the 2012 Project YESS class.  While initially a bit apprehensive because he didn’t have any sailing know how, Orlando loved the experience and developed new friendships.  “Everybody came from different backgrounds, but we all got along,” he said.  “Even though I live in the so-called ‘hood,’ and other kids had more money, it didn’t matter. We became a real team and learned a lot from each other.”  One of his favorite experiences was “going aloft” and climbing the 100-plus feet masts, which he described as “always a little bit scary, but still so much fun.”


Project YESS aims to have 25 teens participate each year. The Rotary Club of Cleveland and its generous sponsors fund all program costs.