"It Transformed My Life..."

by Richie Kertatos

When I was 8 years old, I moved back to New York from Florida. After my mom and dad got divorced, my mom moved the three of us- me, my brother, and her- into my grandparents’ home on Long Island so that they could help her out while she worked and took care of us. So I joined an after-school program at the Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club in Locust Valley. It was ultimately the Boys and Girls Club that introduced me to the Waterfront Center, and the Waterfront Center changed my life.

The Grenville Baker Boys and Girls Club was offering a week-long introduction to sailing at the Waterfront Center, and my mom was looking for something for me to do since my hockey season had ended. So she suggested I try it out, just for fun. So a few of us kids signed up, and we took a bus to the Waterfront Center every day, where I was introduced to sonars as well as marine biology and the touch tank. We learned the parts of a boat, how to tie knots, and some basic sailing skills. I had so much fun, and I remember running home to my mother, asking her if I could please go camping at the Waterfront Center.

My mom’s first reaction was “I am not sure we can afford it, Richie. Let me look into it.” Much to my mother’s surprise, the Waterfront Center was a non-profit organization, and she was able to apply for scholarships for me to attend. So that summer, I attended camp, where I sailed Optis, and I was totally hooked from then on.

The Waterfront Center quickly became like a second family for me, a close-knit community where I learned so much from my instructors. Over the years, I participated in and learned so much from the Waterfront Center, both in and out of the water. As I grew, I participated in high school and racing, club 420 sailing, and Big Boat sailing and racing, taking home lots of wins and some losses. With each win or loss, though, I learned a little bit more, and my technical skills improved. Besides technical sailing skills, though, I also learned about teamwork and communication skills, preparation and planning, managing resources, and learning about the weather. After each regatta, we would watch as some schools just abruptly tied up their boats and drove away. But we were always the last ones remaining because we took such special care of our sails and boats, cleaning them properly and handling them with care. We took pride in what we had, and that was an important lesson for me as well.

I also learned about the environment- how to appreciate the power of the water and the wind and how important it is to protect the wildlife and the water around you. And at the Waterfront Center, I also learned about serving the community, through programs such as Sail Ahead, where I was honored to sail US veterans around the harbor. Some of them had never had the experience of the wind on their faces on the open water, and it was such an honor to serve the people who had served us.

And that is probably the most important takeaway about the Waterfront Center: it is a special place that allows for opportunities that are community-oriented and affordable based. Without the Waterfront Center, some kids- like me- may not have been given the opportunity to participate in such a special activity or learn about the environment and marine life. It transformed my life, and I am sure it transforms others as well. Because of my experiences at the Waterfront Center, I have decided to pursue sailing in college and beyond. When I graduate and move on, I will be sad to be away from the Waterfront Center, but I am hopeful that it will continue to provide the same opportunities for other people within our community.