By Erich Wagner
Anthony Ness learned plenty about boat building during his stint at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, but the life lessons regarding success struck him as more important.
“I learned not to use the word ‘try,’ and just say that I’ll do something,” Ness said. “[It] helped with my self-esteem and made me realize that I’m worth something and made me want to do better.”
Ness was one of four young adults who graduated Friday from the nonprofit’s boatbuilding apprenticeship, which program director Steve Hernandez said gets at-risk youth ready for the workforce through hands-on education.
“It’s a four- to six-month training program where we provide life skills and hands-on math,” Hernandez said. “It’s project-based learning.”
The organization also helps graduates attain jobs through its local business ties. Those connections already have benefited Nashell Dennis, who has a position lined up at Bittersweet Bakery after graduation. And thanks to the program, she’s ready to succeed.
“They teach a lot about what a real job is like, what to do and what not to do,” Dennis said. “You can’t go anywhere else to get the learning you need like here.”
Fellow graduate Juan Carlos Henriquez will stay on at the foundation, helping manage the shop and training new apprentices. He will continue learning about the business side of boat building but ultimately plans to go into construction or carpentry.
“They taught me to be confident and never give up,” Henriquez said, noting that the foundation’s staff coached him on public speaking and prepared him for job interviews.
Coby Stewart saw his passion for design and creativity reignited while enrolled in the program. He hopes to work in the arts, doing anything from painting murals to writing books and plays.
“I learned to be a little more open and learned different things about people,” he said. “It was a lot of character-building.”
During Friday’s ceremony, academic instructor Darius Ligon likened graduates’ experience to a caterpillar inside the cocoon. Graduation, he said, marked the butterfly breaking free from the enclosure.
“Just before the butterfly breaks out of the cocoon, the cocoon vibrates as it struggles to get out,” Ligon said. “In that struggle, the butterfly actually strengthens its wings so it is ready to float. And you’re ready to float.”