Keeping great ideas afloat

It’s low tide for Connecticut Community Boating (CCB), a nonprofit organization founded by Chris German in 2007 with a mission to offer access to boating for all Connecticut residents, regardless of income, experience, or residency. However, the end of summer could also mean the end of this terrific community program that’s opened the waters of Long Island Sound to so many since its inception.

Founder Chris German has used boating and sailing to improve the quality of life for those without the resources or ability to take advantage of them. In the last six years, he and the dedicated volunteers who’ve assisted in this venture have built two facilities in Bridgeport.

The first was in a former landfill, where they constructed a docking facility and rehabilitated an abandoned boat ramp. After several seasons offering sailing lessons at Seaside Park, Connecticut Community Boating moved to the Bridgeport Boat Basin, located underneath Bridgeport’s Metro North Train Station. There, they’ve created floating facilities that include a 60-foot dock and a dozen moorings, not to mention several motorboats and sailboats of various sizes they’ve procured through donations over the years.

And yet the ship is taking on water, and CCB might be the next resident of Bridgeport Harbor to go under.

Here we have a group of people who took previously unusable, blighted areas around town and re-purposed them into areas that provide priceless opportunities for many inner-city youth and adults that they’d never experience otherwise. These opportunities have cost Bridgeport (and the surrounding towns that benefit from these services) absolutely nothing. Mr. German has poured his life savings into the project, devoting the last seven years of his life to the sailing lessons, fund-raising, lobbying and myriad other tasks involved in creating a successful nonprofit.

Unfortunately, even that might not prove to be enough to keep CCB’s boats away from rougher seas.

People like John Madden, who currently fronts the Bridgeport effort, volunteer their time, energy and money to keep the boats in the water. Among the services CCB lists on its website are a junior maritime program (free for all youth); U.S. Sailing keelboat and small boat sailing instruction; Sea Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout programming; kayak instruction aboard a small fleet of kayaks; swim instruction for inner-city youth; Connecticut Safe Boating Certification; and basic navigation instruction. Their programs emphasize “self-esteem building, good seamanship, teamwork, community consciousness, and environmental responsibility while promoting good stewardship of our greatest natural resource.”

A confluence of factors is about to rob our area of this devoted group and its noble cause. Damage sustained in Hurricane Sandy and recent rulings from the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) have forced Connecticut Community Boating to begin selling its fleet of boats to stay alive.

Recently, Mr. Madden took me out on a CCB boat to tour Bridgeport Harbor. The money for the gas was coming directly out of his pocket, and his passion for CCB was obvious. Their new facilities are tucked into a little-used channel at the far end of the harbor. The harbor itself, surrounded by hundreds of abandoned pilings and broken piers, is an aquatic ghost town. I noticed exactly one fishing vessel pass by in the four-hour span of my visit, yet the city of Bridgeport and the DEEP are essentially forcing this tiny group of volunteers to move out through a series of demands that make CCB’s very existence economically unsustainable.

If you want to join in the chorus of concerned citizens who believe in the valuable services this organization provides, please visit the CCB website at Donations of money, material, and most importantly time, could make a world of difference in the lives of our neighbors.

It’s sad to see a program that offers such a valuable experience at little to no cost, a successful non-profit maintained through the work of so many dedicated volunteers, left to drift at sea. Bridgeport Harbor’s legacy, not to mention the thousands of people who would continue to benefit, deserves better.

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