When 16-year-old Dakari Dawkins first stepped aboard a sailboat, he was nervous.
"The boat was shaking, and I had no idea what I was doing," he says. "I was hoping they wouldn't make me steer because I was afraid I would hit something."
But now Dawkins, a graduate of Sailing Instructor Training (SIT), says he can't wait to get back on a boat this summer.
Not long after it was founded, the Downtown Sailing Center (DSC) started SIT as a workforce program for at-risk Baltimore City high school students, where kids go through a 12-week summer training program and learn to be sailing instructors.
"There's something for everybody on the boat," says DSC executive director Kristen Berry. "These kids are experiencing opportunities outside the bounds of what they normally have access to."
Throughout the program, students are taught how to swim, perform CRP, sail, and, eventually, become instructors themselves. The trainees in the program, thanks to a partnership with YouthWorks, actually get paid to participate. And most SIT graduates return the following summer to act as instructors for DSC's other youth programs.
"When you're with people who've never sailed, it puts you in control," says Dawkins, who comes from a low-income family.
"It's not an environment where you can do whatever you want. The boat is huge, and you have to communicate at all times."
But the SIT program isn't all about sailing. It also offers SAT prep, financial training, college visits, and field trips to meet various people. Dawkins says he met Rep. Elijah Cummings during his program.
"Being in SIT opened a door for me," he says. "More than my other friends who just worked at restaurants and punched in and punched out, I really learned something."
While DSC has not conducted any formal studies, Berry said that 95 percent of SIT students complete the program, and most return. Last year, DSC employed 50 part-time staff, all of them SIT grads—just like Dawkins will be doing this summer.
"I can't wait," Dawkins says. "My favorite thing to do is be the skipper and teach others just like I was taught."