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Changing lives via youth sail training

05 May 2017

Changing lives via youth sail training Image

By Bill Reid

Today’s world is a complex and confronting place especially for young people. Youth programs on Docklands’ Alma Doepel are needed today more than ever.

The program is recognised as a valuable resource for marginalised youth and has shown to raise a person’s self esteem that helps combat youth drug use, depression and suicide.

When restored, the Alma Doepel will again provide valuable youth sail training programs. More than 4000 youths have participated in the Alma Doepel program – gaining resilience, leadership and communication skills through working as a team.

Alma Doepel management is reaching out to ex-voyagers to tell their story as part of this challenging period for Alma. This is Joanne’s story.

Joanne spent nine days on Alma Doepel in Port Phillip Bay from April 12, 1991. Joanne remembers this date.

Joanne has lived a difficult life. She and her sister were taken from her alcoholic parents by Human Services when she was three. She spent four years in various institutions before being fostered out to a family when she was seven.

Joanne has struggled through life and has held onto her Alma experience throughout, using the experience as a guiding light. Recently she wanted to go on the TV program Millionaire Hotseat and she thought to use her Alma experience as her story line.

She contacted the Alma Doepel to find out if she was still active only to learn about the restoration program. Joanne was alarmed to learn that the Alma needed help to get her back in the water to resume its youth sail training program.

She resolved that, should she ever get on the popular TV program, she would like to donate a portion of any winnings, because she knows how life changing the experience has been in her life.

By the age of 11, Joanne’s foster parents gave birth to a new baby for the first time and the family dynamics changed. Joanne developed into a troubled teenager. In her own words she was “feral”.

By age 15, Joanne’s social worker identified her as a candidate for the Alma Doepel Youth Sail Training program. The Department of Human Services sponsored her to attend the nine-day sail around Port Philip Bay.

Not knowing what to expect from the experience and having never been aboard a sailing ship, Joanne said the experience changed her life. Joanne was in a dark place and had no trust for anyone and was experiencing people telling her she was no good and taking advantage of her. Joanne says this inevitably leads down a path of escape through drugs and alcohol which contributes to the rate of youth suicide.

Joanne came on board and she knew no one. Initially she remained quiet and reserved. She recalls how welcoming the crew were – how all the voyagers were on a level playing field. The biggest shock was the mandatory early morning dips for all.

Because everyone else was doing it, Joanne did it and she says this was the beginning of a sense of “can do” that was instilled with the voyagers. And so the adventure began. Voyagers were taught about all the parts of the ship, their functions and how to employ them in the sailing of the ship. They learned how to navigate using instruments and stars. They had to climb the masts, work out on the yards, and unfurl the sails. They were all encouraged out of their comfort zones and they quickly learned they could do it and how important each person was as part of the team. For the first time in her life she felt in a safe environment and she realised for the first time she had control of her life and was learning to trust.

Each voyager is encouraged to keep a journal, and Joanne has kept her journal to this day – often reflecting on the inspiring words that crew member wrote in her journal – to believe in herself.

Joanne’s story illustrates how important it is to get the Alma Doepel back in the water. Alma needs your help urgently. If ever there was a time to give back to Alma, now is the time.

With the fast pace of development in Docklands, the area known as North Wharf is soon to be developed and time is short for the Alma Doepel. Progress on the hull is much advanced and given the funds, the Alma Doepel can be back in the water by the end of 2017.

Anyone wanting to know more about the restoration and how you can help, go to the website. Group tours are most welcome, and bookings are recommended. Details on the website

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