[6/6/2022] Tacoma is famous for its beautiful waterfront but, shockingly, around 90% of students in Tacoma public schools don’t have access to experience the waters of the Puget Sound. That’s something Monique Valenzuela, Executive Director of the Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation, wants to change.
Listen to Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation Executive Director and CEO Monique Valenzuela talk about YMF, developing leaders of the future, and her experience being involved with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber on this episode of Making It in the South Sound.
The Tacoma Youth Marine Foundation is a nonprofit organization that operates the Tacoma Youth Marine Center on the east side of the Foss Waterway. Formed in 1991, the Youth Marine Center serves as “a place for youth to touch the Sound.” The center’s campus houses classrooms, dock space, a boat repair shop, a fuel station, and a fleet of 24+ vessels that youth can use to experience being on the water.
Youth access to marine experiences is about so much more than the fun of being on a boat. In Monique’s view, it’s a unique way to build leadership, business skills, and responsibility.
How does the Youth Marine Foundation achieve its mission of “empowering youth to navigate their future?” It starts with partnerships with the Tacoma Sea Scouts, local schools, and organizations like Metro Parks Tacoma.
The Sea Scouts, which has been operating in Tacoma since 1923, is a training program where kids can get involved in learning about, sailing, and maintaining maritime vessels. The Youth Marine Center is home to Tacoma’s Sea Scout Base and provides the group with classroom space, dock usage, and use of their fleet of vessels. This program, which is co-ed and open to youth as young as 13, teaches kids how to operate and maintain vessels year-round through active boating experience in the waters around Tacoma. In addition to practical skills, being in the Sea Scouts helps kids learn leadership skills, practice conflict resolution, and take pride in their hard work. For many kids, participating in the Sea Scouts can also put them on a path to their future careers. Many former Sea Scouts go on to have jobs in naval architecture, ports, merchant marines operations, the military and Coast Guard, and other maritime-related fields.
The lessons of being a Sea Scout are just the beginning of the learning experiences that take place at the Youth Marine Center. For high schoolers at Tacoma School of the Arts (SOTA) the center is likely a familiar location, as it serves as the home of their science classroom. That’s right: instead of learning science in a traditional classroom, SOTA students are taught science lessons a few days a week at the only public high school classroom on the Foss Waterway. Not only that, but the center provides chartered vessels to take students on marine science cruises throughout the school year that gives them an opportunity to conduct hands-on research as part of their learning. The Tacoma Science and Math Institute High School and School of Industrial Design, Engineering and Art also have strong collaborations with the center that offer public school students unique opportunities to learn outside of four walls.
For youth who aren’t part of the Sea Scouts or students with the schools listed above, there are still even more opportunities to experience what the Youth Marine Center has to offer. Every summer, YMF partners with Metro Parks Tacoma for a “Sails and Trails Summer Camp.” They provide vessels, staff, and the Center’s campus for education and activities to this popular camp that sells out every year. The camp also opens up opportunities for Sea Scouts by employing them to be instructors and provide vessel maintenance.
It’s clear that in addition to their goal of helping youth access the waters of the Sound, YMF is doing much more than that: they are empowering youth to navigate their futures. A big part of that comes in the form of connections to local commerce.
While YMF is a nonprofit organization, it also houses two businesses on its campus. One of these is a fuel dock that private boats and emergency vessels can use. The other is Commencement Bay Marine Services, a full-service marine vessel repair and boat parts company. Proceeds from both of these businesses benefit the programs of YMF.
A direct way the Foundation is developing future South Sound business leaders is through the opportunities these on-campus businesses provide. High schoolers interested in mechanics can take part in internships with hands-on learning in the vessel repair shop. Sea Scouts can gain job experience through employment at the Sails and Trails Summer Camp. For young adults interested in careers in mechanics and marine services, the boat repair shop and fuel dock offer entry-level job opportunities in skilled trades.
Even for youth who don’t plan on pursuing careers related to the marine industry, the programs at YMF teach critical skills for future success. Hard work, leadership, collaboration, responsibility, problem-solving, and conflict resolution are just some of the many skills youth learn through YMF’s programs that will give them advantages in any future career field. Kids who participate in YMF-supported programs —whether it be the Sea Scouts, science classes, or summer camps—may go on to become future small business owners, CEOs, elected officials, scientists, teachers, and more. And when they do, it will be thanks in no small part to the lessons they learned on a boat on the Foss Waterway.
This Member Feature story is part of a series by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to promote stronger connections and increased engagement between the Chamber, its members, and the local business community. Member stories are non-promotional opportunities to share members' business stories with the community. If you are a Chamber member interested in being featured for a story, please contact Digital Marketing Outreach Coordinator Audrey Widner at email@example.com
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