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Young men to e-mail veterans while at sea


September 1, 2001

BANGOR — Three of the 12 young men about to embark on an extended sea adventure visited the Maine Veterans’ Home on Friday to meet some of the pen pals with whom they’ll be keeping in touch as they sail from Maine to Venezuela and back.

During their eight-month adventure aboard the schooner Lettie G. Howard, the 17- to 20-year-olds participating in Community Health and Counseling Services’ Experience at Sea program will be corresponding — by e-mail — with residents of the Maine Veterans’ Home.

“We’ve been teaching our residents how to e-mail and use the Internet,” said Forrest Wheelock, activities and volunteer supervisor at the Bangor veterans’ home. “Many of our clientele are in their 70s and 80s so this is kind of a stretch for them.” Wheelock said that the e-mail exchanges with the soon-to-be sailors will provide opportunities for the vets to apply some of the new skills they’ve been learning in a meaningful way.

Lorraine Leathers, an AmeriCorps member from the Bangor Public Library, visits the home at least twice a week to offer computer and Internet lessons through Go Online with AmeriCorps at Libraries and Schools, or GO@LS. Many of the home’s residents have given computers a try, she said. About half a dozen veterans have become regular students.

Everett Steele, a Korean War veteran, is one of Leathers’ star computer pupils.

“I know how to turn it on and off,” Steele said with a laugh Friday. Leathers said he was being modest. She said that Steele and her other regular students have been using computers to write letters and e-mail messages, conduct Internet searches, find the addresses and phone numbers of some of their old buddies, play games, monitor news groups and visit Web sites, among other things.

James Welsh of CHCS said that designers of the ocean-based program decided to involve the veterans’ home because they wanted to add an intergenerational dimension and because they wanted to connect with a group that could give the young men a state flag to fly on their boat and help give them a team identity. The three young men who visited the home Friday were presented a flag by the home’s resident council.

Experience at Sea is a program designed to help young men living in foster homes and group homes make the transition to adulthood.

In its first year, the program will bring 12 men to the Outward Bound facilities on Hurricane Island to undergo a 25-day intensive training course in sailing, teamwork and logistics.

The group then will operate as crew of the schooner Lettie G. Howard for an eight-month tour down the East Coast under the supervision of the Coast Guard’s licensed professionals; a voyage that will take them to ports in Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Participants also will be hitting the books while at sea, Welsh noted. Those who complete the program will earn 12 college credits in boat handling and navigation as well as Advanced Placement English and math.

In addition to mentors and instructors at Outward Bound, the program also is made possible through private grants and state funding, as well as a partnership between the Atlantic Challenge Foundation of Rockland, the Ocean Classroom Foundation and the South Street Seaport Museum. The latter two will provide the ship, crew and educators.

Timothy Woodcock, president of the CHCS board, earlier observed that adolescents under state care often feel disconnected from society — and poorly prepared for independent living — when they leave residential homes. As a result of their experience at sea, he said, young adults who never felt part of anything will gain a connection to a significant aspect of Maine’s culture and economy.

As part of the program, an outreach worker will work as a “mentor” for a participant to help aid in identifying personal goals and create a plan for independent living.

James Raynes, 17, is among those chosen for the program.

“I can’t wait,” said Raynes, a tall Brewer High School student who’ll be spending his senior year on the sea. Raynes said that his father once owned a boatyard in Blue Hill and that he hoped to follow in his footsteps.

“I’d like to build boats,” he said. After graduating from high school next May, Raynes plans to take a year off to get his bearings. “I’ll need to find an apartment and get a job,” he said, “but I do want to go to college.”

Among the adventures that await are a race on the Chesapeake, a two-week holiday break at a U.S. military base campground in Puerto Rico, lots of hard work and learning to live in a small space. According to Raynes, each of the young men can take only what fits in a duffel bag.

Raynes said that several schools will be following the schooner’s progress through the program’s Web site at www.experienceatsea.org.

By Dawn Gagnon, Of the NEWS Staff, Copyright © 2001 Bangor Daily News.


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