Community Rallies to Save Piers Park Sailing Center

By John Lynds

Since 1997, the Piers Park Sailing Center (PPSC) has provided free sailing for inner city children living in East Boston who otherwise would never get the chance to acquire the invaluable skill that not only teachers the science of sailing but unmeasurable life lessons.

However, according to several sources, at the end of the sailing season last fall PPSC was forced to layoff its year-round employees because there was no money left to keep the program going.

Now, there is talk in the community that unless a miracle happens, PPSC may not come back in the summer to run its a widely popular youth summer programs and all other programs for the foreseeable future.

“Basically, the situation is that the Piers Park Sailing Center ran into financial difficulties at the end of last season when a large grant they were counting on did not materialize,” said Piers Park Board member Mary Cole. “The sailing center found itself with no money in the bank, and a maxed out line of credit.  The Board of Directors personally–out of their own pockets–covered staff salaries for the last month to keep the center open and finish out the season.  They also paid personally for crane services and wrapping supplies to winterize the boats.”

Cole, an Eastie resident who recently joined the board along with fellow Eastie resident, Mike Bruno, have been working with the rest of the board to figure out ways to save the Sailing Center.

“We have been working hard to raise the funds to re-open the center,” said Cole. “We have been talking to MassPort since last fall, and have also had constructive conversations with our elected officials, as well as with Piers PAC and the East Boston Foundation.”

The East Boston Foundation has provided a grant of $12,500 with the potential to raise and additional $12,500 in matching funds.

Cole and Bruno, as well as Alex DeFronzo, and Dan Moreno jumped into the Boston Harbor as part of the Harpoon Splash to raise money for PPSC.

“We are also holding a fundraiser at the Maverick Marketplace on March 20th,” said Cole. “We encourage the community to help us save and improve this great program.”

While all the fundraising is positive, others feel it is time for Massport, who started the sailing center and gave the lion’s share of funding from 1997 to 2001 to the tune of $250,000.

Massport HAD TO STOP funding after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks due to a decrease in air travel. The money to PPSC was cut during the Port Authority’s Fiscal Recovery Plan that year.

“It has been a struggle to establish the sailing center against narrow minded people who thought it was foolish to have a sailing program on the inner harbor,” said longtime community activist Mary Ellen Welch. “Then it was most difficult to get the Port Authority to fund the effort as part of the Piers Park project. Massport did fund the program for several years and then decided to have the program go it alone.”

Since Massport dropped funding, PPSC has had to rely on grants and nominal funds raised through the adult program. However, the center retains the property through an extended $1 lease from Massport, who also donated the Sailing Center’s fleet of ten 23-foot Sonar keelboats.

When asked if Massport was considering refunding PPSC the Port Authority sent a statement that, “Massport’s commitment to being a good neighbor to the East Boston community is both deep and multi-faceted. Massport has long supported the Piers Park Sailing Center in a number of ways, providing over $1 million in support over the past 20 years. This support has included direct financial investment, building, maintenance and security of the facilities used by the Sailing Center, at no cost to the Center; sponsorships, charitable donations, and summer jobs. The Sailing Center is a main participant in Massport’s Community Summer Jobs program; receiving close to $100,000 to fund summer jobs for almost 100 teens to earn money and gain experience in the work force. In addition, the Sailing Center has received more than $250,000 in donations from the East Boston Foundation, which is funded solely by Massport.”

Eastie’s elected officials said they are pulling out all the stops to help the PPSC board save the program.

“The Piers Park Sailing Center has long been a fixture in the East Boston community providing sailing lessons to young and old alike,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “As an alum of the center, I had the awesome experience of not only learning how to sail, but learning those skills on the beautiful Boston harbor overlooking the city skyline. The sailing program teaches the technical aspects of boating, while helping to instill confidence and teamwork as part of the learning experience. The Piers Park Sailing Center offers sailing lessons to youth, adults, and for those with disabilities. It is an inclusive, engaging, and unique program for our community, which is now facing financial challenges. My hope is to engage our residents, local businesses, and philanthropists in an effort to keep this valuable resource in East Boston for many years to come.”

City Councilor Sal LaMattina said PPSC is vital to the Eastie community.

“It gives the residents of our neighborhood an opportunity to access the waterfront, something that I have been advocating for many years,” said LaMattina. “It’s very important for the youth of our community especially the hundreds of at-risk youth, it gives them Recreational and educational experiences that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We in East Boston need to support this very important agency.”

Sen. Joseph Boncore added, “Piers Park Sailing Certer’s program is a valuable asset to our diverse community.   PPSC’s programing provides affordable alternative to at-risk youth and gives persons with disabilities access to recreational activities in and around the Harbor.   It is my hope that our leaders and community partners can come to the table to ensure all families can continue to benefit from PPSC for years to come.”

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