Twin Cities non-profit builds boats and life skills in tandem
Non-profit Urban Boat Builders took to Wirth Lake in Minneapolis on Sunday to show off and sell several canoes, all of which were primarily handcrafted by teenagers.
Urban Boat Builders launched in 1995 with the idea that through wooden boat-building, kids could learn valuable life and career skills, executive director Marc Hosmer said.
Three decades and hundreds of boats later, the program tried something new on Sunday, letting anyone interested take the canoes for a trial ride.
“Right now, I’m working on my fifth or fourth boat,” shared Tanu Buck. How those boats turn out is dependent “on all the apprentices and how we work as a team,” he explained.
Buck has worked his way up through the Urban Boat Builders program from an apprentice at 19 years old when he started last year to a youth instructor these days.
“My brother was in the program and that’s how I got into the program,” he shared. “And it really stuck with me.”
While the crux of it all is building each unique canoe — or other modes of transportation like longboards, skateboards and kayaks — from scratch, “it’s more than just boat building,” Tanu said.
“This place has been a safe haven for me, and I learned lots of skills, lots of networking skills, career readiness skills.”
“Things that we use each and every day in our lives and that are indicators of success, both in their general lives and future careers,” Hosmer added.
“Something where they started from a pile of sticks and they turn it into a finished boat, and they can put it on the water like we’re doing today.”
For Buck, it’s not only been a space to build a resume; it’s a home where he feels heard.
“I use those skills daily. And I, yeah, I advocate for myself a lot more than I used to,” he said, adding he’s now teaching those skills to incoming apprentices.
“A lot of times when youth walk into our shop for the first time, they’re kind of closed off and inside of themselves and unsure of who they are,” Hosmer shared. “And just this transformation from sort of uncertain to really proud and confident is, it’s really amazing to see.”
Sales from Sunday will go right back into investing in future boat-building apprentices for years to come.
Teenagers from ages 16 to 21 can apply for the program, and Urban Boat Builders also works with younger kids in schools.