This summer at 6:30 AM each weekday, a 25-passenger bus and a 15-passenger van, both gleaming white, depart the Youth Sailing Foundation facility at the city Waste Water Treatment Plant to pick up homeless children from locations scattered all over Indian River County. The children are transported to over 20 different summer camps, ranging from YSF’s sailing camp at the Moorings to the Extended Day Program at Sebastian Elementary School to Eco Camp in Fort Pierce, all coordinated and funded by the Homeless Children’s Foundation. The process is reversed in the afternoon with the transportation crew completing another 3- to 4-hour route by 6:30 PM.
The unique partnership between the two local non-profits began last summer when a single client from HCF attended YSF’s sailing camp on scholarship. HCF Executive Director Hannah Hite spoke to Stu Keiller, her counterpart at YSF, about HCF’s transportation challenges. With widely scattered clients and numerous camp destinations, the only practical solution was to have dedicated vehicles with skilled professional drivers and monitors. While HCF was prepared to come up with the resources to provide the vehicles, they lacked the staff and space to store and operate them.
A partnership was quickly formed with HCF providing the funds for YSF to purchase a new Ford Transit van and a larger Ford/Elkhart Coach. Laura O’Neal resigned her position as Operations Manager with SDIRC Transportation Department and came aboard as Director of YSF Transportation.
Laura assembled a terrific team who not only transport the children, but also provide much needed security and loving engagement from the moment they pick up each child to the end of the day when they personally deliver them back to their parent or guardian. The bonds that have formed between these dedicated adults and these children who desperately need whole-hearted attention is a gratifying by-product of the solution to a transportation problem.
A trained monitor is aboard each vehicle to interact with the children, utilize games, and create fun contests. Engaging the group in productive learning and socializing is an important objective during the hours spent together on the bus. Many of the children know each other from shelters and motels, and having them together on their way to and from summer camp transports them literally and figuratively to places and experiences that open new horizons.
This is a win-win relationship. During the school year, YSF uses the larger vehicle to pick up a total of 60 young sailors weekly from Beachland Elementary, Gifford Middle and Osceola Magnet Schools, transporting the Shark, Dolphin and Explorer squadrons for afterschool sailing practice. The smaller van, equipped with a heavy-duty towing package, is used to transport the YSF Varsity High School Sailing Team to weekend regattas all over the state of Florida. The entire team with all their equipment and boats can be accommodated in the van and towed trailer, eliminating the need for multiple volunteer vehicles and trailers. Having the team together in the van provides a great opportunity for pre-regatta briefing, socializing and wonderful times riding home after competing against some of the best high school sailors in the country.