spotlight stories

spotlight on girls in the outdoors

Every Thursday afternoon, 12 middle school girls walk down the hill from their school and into a different world.  They cluster in Rocking the Boat’s workshop ably handling tools that only a few weeks prior were entirely unfamiliar.  They haul 12’ sailboats from their storage area to the muddy shore of the Bronx River, climb in, and deftly maneuver on the water that they had only recently been intimidated by.  These new surroundings, and the mental and physical rushes they are the setting for, are inspiring, addictive, and empowering.

Rocking the Boat is thrilled to be among the first 26 organizations—out of 560 that applied!—to receive a grant from the Force of Nature Fund, a new initiative sponsored by Washington state-headquartered outfitter and the country’s largest consumer cooperative, REI.  True to REI’s goal of using the outdoors to empower and inspire women and girls, Rocking the Boat is hosting a weekly environmental discovery series for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls from St. Ignatius middle school, located just up the block.  But they could just as easily be in a rustic retreat many miles away practicing their rowing skills in handmade wooden boats—they are notably quick to get the timing right and coordinating their strokes with the rest of the crew; in the woodshop designing, measuring, sawing, and assembling custom designed wooden boxes; and pushing themselves past the cold and sometimes slimy feeling that goes hand in hand with fishing, monitoring eel mops, and tending oyster gardens.

Rocking the Boat has run single sex programs for St. Ignatius before—while it is a co-ed school, it separates classes by gender—but a couple of factors make this program stand out.  For one, it focuses on one group of 12 girls and extends over the entire 2017-2018 school year and into the summer, allowing for a deep and impactful experience.  An all-female team of four Rocking the Boat alumni are leading the sessions, and three more grads working in non-traditional careers for women are making appearances as guest speakers.  All the women are proud to serve as role models to these students, and pass on what they learned not only when they were Rocking the Boat participants, but in college and since.  In addition and very different from past St. Ignatius girls programs or really any other Public Program Rocking the Boat has ever run, a social work intern is participating in the sessions, guiding talks on the special challenges girls and women face, especially gender parity.  In addition to these planned dialogues, impromptu discussions spring up, including an animated one while the girls worked in the shop on their wooden boxes.  It was March 8, International Women’s Day.  When asked about it, the girls initially felt indifferent about the day and commented that they couldn’t relate to the historical figures they had learned about earlier that day in school.  But they came alive to the conversation once staff started asking questions about themselves and their own experiences.  Everyone felt encouraged to begin sharing personal stories, which helped the girls more clearly identify with the theme of the day and their role in furthering it.

Not long after, the girls went back to putting the finishing touches on their boxes, now cognizant of the abiding metaphor they held in their hands: as girls, they needn’t fit into any category defined for them, they have the power to create their own boxes.

"By providing young women with the opportunity to explore the outdoors in vessels built by their peers, RTB continues to empower and promote self-discovery through connecting participants to the environment and to one another. We, at the Co-op, are beyond proud of these tremendous young women and all they have accomplished."

"Each week, I witness our students bonding in a way that isn’t possible in any other environment, where they have a unique opportunity to grow closer to each other and to themselves while gaining crucial awareness of the world around them. Rocking the boat is more than just an after school activity for us- at RTB, we’re a team, we’re family."

"I love this program because you can be yourself, and you don’t have to worry about other people judging you."

"This is probably the best part of my week!"

kids don’t just build boats, boats build kids

rocking the boat
812 edgewater road
bronx, ny 10474
phone: 718.466.5799
fax: 718.466.2892