By John Lynds
After a seven year hiatus, Sailing After School has returned to the Piers Park Sailing Center (PPSC), another sign that the popular neighborhood sailing center is thriving following a near closure this past spring.
“We hope to expand and become a provider of year-round youth programs,” said Executive Director Alex DeFronzo. “Bringing back sailing after school is the first step in that direction. My introduction to Piers Park Sailing Center was through the fall after school program with Connie Pike as my instructor.”
DeFronzo said fall sailing is an excellent time to build skills because the wind is consistent and student minds are focused and ready to learn. PPSC opened the Fall 2017 after school program with 36 total slots. DeFronzo said the sessions are two weeks long and run five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m. through the end of October.
“All students currently enrolled in the program hail from East Boston and Chelsea, and many of them come to the park early to finish up homework before hitting the high seas and learning the art and science of sailing,” said DeFronzo. “There are still a few spots in Session 3 which starts October 9.”
The Sailing After School program is one of two fall programs PPSC was able to bring back. The other program, the East Boston High School Racing Team, also started back up after being absent from the sailing center for a few years. Practice for the the high school’s sailing team began Monday.
“Sailing after school and the racing team are funded by a generous $25,000 grant from Greenville Realty, $6,500 in donations raised during the Sail Away Soiree Fundraiser, and $6,000 from My Brother’s Keeper Boston,” said DeFronzo. “The High School Racing Coach Jasmine Nijjar, and After School Instructors, Catherine Domina, Zack Polizzi, Garrett Ruszkowski, and Therese Ohman all learned to sail at PPSC and are now teaching the next generation of future leaders and instructors at the sailing center.”
PPSC has been a community treasure since opening in the late 1990s. However, following last season the sailing center was in fiscal ruins, but a new board and leadership team was able to successfully raise the needed funds to keep PPSC going.
At the beginning of the month, PPSC held its annual Soiree where DeFronzo got a chance to reflect on the struggle and thank those who helped keep the Sailing Center afloat.
“This year’s transformation was one of collaboration,” he said. “Hundreds of people came together to keep this program alive. You’ve invested your time, your money, and your care and compassion. For me, I feel honored to be a part of Piers Park Sailing Center. It is a place that changed my life as a kid and it is exciting to see the faces of so many others that had the same experience in their childhood – that are back to help the program today. The greatest joy though, is to get to see it continue to happen for kids that our in our programs now. We will take the support you’ve shown and continue to fight for the sailing center, to grow it in a responsible way, and to continue to serve for generations to come.”
At the Soiree DeFronzo singled out Michael Bruno, PPSC Board of Directors Treasurer, for helping guide the sailing center from the edge of dissolution eight months ago to a fiscal year that will close in surplus next month. “That means new equipment and safer boats for our young students,” said DeFronzo. “He was one of my instructors in my childhood and has returned to Piers Park to revive a place that we all love. His dedication has proven our commitment to the community and I am lucky to have him has as a boss.”
Bruno said the Soiree was a very special night because it was more than just a fundraiser, it was a celebration.
“We are a non-profit organization, which means it takes the support of individuals like all of you, as well as foundational grants, corporate sponsorships and community support to keep the boats afloat and our programming operating,” he said. “It also takes the hard work and dedication of an amazing team.”