Summer vacation. It’s every kid’s favorite time of year, and for good reason.
While the break from school provides some much-anticipated relaxation time for all youngsters, the season is also the perfect time to explore different hobbies, pick up new skills, and create long-lasting memories and friendships.
Where’s a great place to do all that in Macomb County? North Star Junior Sailing.
“Sailing is something everyone can do. When you think of a sailor, there’s no one picture that comes into your head. It really is an all-inclusive activity,” says Nickie Kowal, president emeritus and writer for the North Star Junior Sailing board of directors. “There are 8-year-old sailors, and there are 80-year-old sailors. How many sports can you say that about?”
Inclusivity is one of the biggest appeals of the junior sailing club, according to Kowal. “People think of sailing as an activity that’s only for the rich and famous, but that’s a misconception. Our participants come from families of all socioeconomic backgrounds.” North Star Junior Sailing offers scholarships and financial aid to make their programs available to all. North Star is a 501(c)(3) corporation—meaning all donations made to the program are tax-exempt. “Many people will donate boats, which really helps keep the course accessible to everyone,” notes Kowal.
North Star Junior Sailing, which has been running since 1989, sparks a lifelong passion for sailing in every participant. Though the program has plenty of new learners every year, returning sailors have a particularly fierce loyalty to the program and often come back again and again. “These connections that the kids make are lifelong. They keep coming back year after year because the memories and the bonds they make with each other are so strong,” Kowal remarks.
Kids don’t just learn the basics of how to sail, they also have the opportunity to join a race team and compete in races with other young sailors from all over Michigan. “Then they end up meeting other people that they never would have met otherwise, and forming friendships with them too,” says Kowal.
Kowal herself has been involved with the program for 12 years, as a secretary, president, and board member, while her own children were learning to sail. She says it’s not unusual for people to stay involved with the organization long after they’ve aged out of the junior sailing program. In fact, Ian Pouliot, the current president of the North Star board, is a graduate of the program.
Sailing is an ever-growing sport, with the growth rate skyrocketing among high school and college students in recent years. So what else makes sailing such a popular summertime activity? “Parents love it, because it gets kids outside and keeps them off their electronics,” Kowal laughs. “Not only that, it’s also an applied lesson in math, science, and physics. The kids learn all about vectors and velocity before they even come across it in a classroom setting. And of course when it comes time for them to take their boating safety test, given by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, everything is second nature to them.”
The significance of learning to sail is not lost on any of the program’s participants. Says Kowal, “We have this great natural resource here, being right on Lake St. Clair. Kids have to learn how to respect the water, appreciate it, navigate it, and be safe in it.”
The next two-week beginners’ course starts Monday, July 10. For more information about the program, click here.
Jenna Russell is a summer intern at the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development. She is a senior at Oakland University.