I grew up in a traditional Hmong family: my dad was a community clan leader and both my parents went to work while my siblings and I were in school. When I came out to my family as LGBT in tenth grade, they really didn’t like it, but I couldn’t keep being dishonest to myself. My parents didn’t accept me and said I was a disgrace – especially after I cut my hair short. They said that if I wanted to be gay, I could leave the house. I started to skip school, and when I was home I knew my parents disliked me just because I wasn’t the daughter they wanted me to be. I was bullied and harassed by my dad and my siblings and it got so bad that my school called Child Protective Services.
But tenth grade was a defining year in my life because it is also when I found Urban Boatbuilders.
I first saw the apprentices at Lake Como doing something with wood and string and thought to myself, “That’s weird.” An instructor told me they were launching the canoes in a few days and as soon as I went back to see the boats float, I was hooked! I thought boat building was different and exciting and I wanted to build canoes just like them. Luckily I was hired as an apprentice a few months later.
My experience at Urban Boat Builders was transformative.
As the only girl working there, I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to speak up when something didn’t go right or when I needed help, but I proved myself wrong. We were given responsibility and we were expected to complete tasks with integrity and precision. Because of this, I learned how to work in a team, how to hold myself and my peers accountable and how to be a leader. But most of all, in the shop I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.
For the first time, I felt comfortable opening up to people about my feelings. When I felt sad or upset, Phil, the Program Manager, would stay after shop hours and help me through whatever was wrong. Phil’s generosity and kindness helped me feel comfortable asking for what I needed, and he taught me to look at things from a new perspective and to be more open minded.
Even though I was having a positive experience at Urban Boatbuilders I was still having troubles at home and at school. I kept running away and not facing my problems and I soon I was facing addiction. I started to lose everything I had. I finally hit rock bottom and had no other place to go. So I went to Phil at Urban Boatbuilders. I told him I was going to treatment in an effort to fix my life. He supported my decision and and gave me courage and strength to better my life, just like always.
After I came out of treatment, I worked to reconnect with my family who convinced me I was cured of addiction and of being gay. My dad said I should stop treatment and not see my sponsor. I wanted to be with my family so much that I believed him and headed his advice. But after 5 months of being sober with no support, I relapsed.
I went back to Urban Boatbuilders to talk to Phil about the situation. He made me laugh and he made me feel better and he helped me realize that I needed more treatment.
When I came out of treatment for the second time, 11 months ago, I was scared and I didn’t think I was going to graduate from high school. But I reminded myself of what Urban Boatbuilders taught me about perseverance and strength and I applied those lessons to my goals.
A few months ago, I got the news that I had been accepted to Augsburg College. The next day I came in to Urban Boatbuilders because it was the place that led to my success. It is thanks to my time at Urban Boatbuilders that I chose a good path, I am in college, I am succeeding, I will be one year sober this month, and I am going to be a successful mechanical engineer one day. I’ve learned a lot since tenth grade about who I am and what I can accomplish, and I would not have learned such valuable insights without the mentorship, guidance, and support of my Urban Boatbuilders family.
2012 Apprentice Rite of Passage
in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Restoring Canoes - Restoring Lives
Urban Boatbuilders apprentices and volunteers are making good progress on the two canoes commissioned by Camp Mishawaka last May. We expect to have both canoes back in service for the opening of camp this summer.
In the spring of 2012, George Lottes from Camp Mishawaka arranged for Urban Boatbuilders to restore two of their old canoes: a 1944 Old Town 18' Guide model wood-canvas canoe and an even older 1923 Old Town 20' Guide canoe. Both canoes had been out of service for some time and, one could say, 'in desperate need of repair'.
Interestingly, the 20' canoe when delivered to our shop was only 18' long. It was missing
2-feet of the bow-end due do a previous alteration to make it a square-stern canoe, one
suitable for hanging an outboard motor from its transom. Mr. Lottes, however, asked
to have the canoe repaired back to its original design: a double-ended, non-motorized
canoe. To be honest, we weren't sure about this request, but agreed knowing that as an
organization that transforms kids lives by building boats, that we could certainly give this
old canoe the attention, problem-solving skills, and love needed for its transformation.
The canoe just needed its 'head' put back on so it could again head in the right direction;
just like our youth.
So, Urban Boatbuilders initiated 'Restoration Tuesdays' to accomplish the task of restoring two canoes in twelve months. Now, each Tuesday and for the past nine months, three adult
volunteers have worked side-by-side with the apprentices and our program director, Phil
Winger, to bring these historic canoes back to life.
The recently completed 18-foot 1944 Old Town was displayed at the 2013 Minneapolis
Boat show in January and the 1923 Old Town canoe is nearing completion of the
structural changes required to transform the canoe to it original 20-foot, double ended
wood-canvas design. Urban Boatbuilders has used the original build records received from Old Town Canoe Company as the benchmark for materials match, unique features, and overall design. When delivered this spring the two restored canoes, after material costs, will earn over $7,500 for future Urban Boatbuilders programming and apprentice hiring. See all of the pictures on our Facebook page.
Many thanks to our apprentices; Darius, Nate, Antonio, Mahamed, Stephanie, Keyonte
and Kahlia, as well as to our Tuesday volunteer's Dick Shank, Mike Daly and Karalyn Littlefield for their tireless effort working on these two projects over the past 9 months.
If you have an old wooden canoe, or small wooden rowboat in need of restoration,
contact Urban Boatbuilders to arrange for an appraisal and repair cost estimate. By engaging the services of Urban Boatbuilders you may restore more than that the old boat, you may very well restore the hope and trust for the many young adults in need of mentoring and rebirth who reach-out to Urban Boatbuilders each year for a job and a chance to participate in our community.