Thursday, October 28th, 2021

Shopper Client Stories


Nonprofit program inspires kids and adults to set sail

Serving as the sailing director at Sail Nauticus is a dream come true for K.C. Fullmer. Besides spending more time on the water, the organization's afterschool program and summer camp allow him to share his love of sailing with local youth.
The youngest in a family of seven sailors, K.C. grew up on New York and Connecticut's waterways. With a passion for sailing that was fostered by his parents, he moved to Hampton Roads in 1979 to attend Old Dominion University, where he enjoyed being a member of its sailing team. K.C. loved the area and stayed. Eventually offered the ODU sailing team's head coach position, he went on to lead it to multiple national championships. "I enjoyed what I did as a coach-especially the teaching aspect," K.C. says, "but it felt like something was missing."

All of that changed seven years ago when Nauticus board members envisioned creating a sailing program geared toward community youth.  With support from the City of Norfolk and its school system, Nauticus Sail Academy was born. It was an innovative new outreach program modeled after a similar program in K.C.'s home state of New York, and he jumped at the chance to play an active role in its work. "It gives me a deep feeling of personal fulfillment to put together and be part of a program that can be life-changing for kids," K.C. says with an enthusiastic smile. "It's so satisfying to now be making a difference in the community instead of just competing for trophies."
Nauticus Sail Academy is the flagship program of Sail Nauticus.

"It's a free afterschool program we offer in partnership with Norfolk Public Schools, that is geared toward underserved sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students," K.C. points out. "The ability to swim isn't required to attend sailing classes because we teach swimming during the winter months in partnership with local recreation centers."

While the Sail Academy is a sailing program, it's not merely about the boats; it is also a rudder to help steer lives in a sound direction. "We chose these grade levels for a precise reason," K.C. explains. "Afterschool activities are not prevalent for this age group.  We wanted to provide a safe place for them to come after school. Also, children in this age range are often at a crossroads in life, making decisions that will have a huge impact on their future. Our program focuses heavily on character development and life skills, teaching them responsibility, leadership, and caring for their fellow human beings. We teach them the importance of teamwork, communication, along with respect for themselves and one another. But probably the most important thing we do is build their self-confidence."

"It gives me a deep feeling of
personal fulfillment to put together and be part of a program
that can be life-changing for kids."
                                                 -K.C. Fullmer

For eighth-graders, their days on the water turn to discussions of their future. "We focus on career development opportunities," K.C. says. "We want them to know that even if they don't have the resources to go to college, there are great jobs in the local maritime industry. Every day that these kids go sailing, they can look at any shoreline and see a lot of marine activity.  We let them know, ‘Hey, you can be the captain of that ship. It doesn't require a college education; it just requires you to be really good at what you do.' We teach them that they can be whatever they want to be; they just have to graduate from high school first. We're with these kids for three years straight. We know them very well by the time they leave us. We know their strengths and their weaknesses and try to address those during their last year with us."

Many of the youth are so impacted by their experience, they come back to become instructors or volunteer to mentor their younger peers. "The fact that they come back to give back says a lot about the success of the program, how much they enjoyed it, and the positive impact it made," K.C. explains. "Some of our students become active in the community, speaking before the school board and sharing their opinions because they developed the confidence needed to do so.  Hopefully, our programs helped foster that confidence."  

"Our summer camp is about
the beauty of sailing, learning to sail,
and environmental stewardship."
                                                    -K.C. Fullmer

Funding for the academy comes from Sail Nauticus' fee-based programs, one of which is a popular summer camp for children age eight through fifteen.  The "Design. Build. Sail Summer Camp" is a week-long STEM-based day camp that runs from late June to the end of July. "Our summer camp is about the beauty of sailing, learning to sail, and environmental stewardship," K.C. reveals. "It's very sailing-centric. We utilize the Battleship Wisconsin and Discovery Center to teach maritime history and show STEM examples and concepts. They end up building a full-sized trash boat with repurposed materials that they find and that we supply. At the end of camp, they race them using paddles. They have a great time!"

There is also an Adult Community Sailing Membership program for aspiring sailors with formal and informal learning opportunities. "But we're not a yacht club," K.C. insists, "and we don't want to be a yacht club. We recruit people who are adventurous, who want to try something new, and expand their horizons. We focus on non-sailors.  Almost half of our members weren't sailors when they first came to us. Our annual membership is cheaper than a gym and offers activities like women's social sails, open sails, races, seminars, and workshops. Again, all revenue from the camps and memberships goes to fund our Sail Academy. By participating, our members are also giving back to kids in the community."

For K.C., it always comes down to giving back. "It's great to be a part of this and watch it grow," he concludes with a broad smile. "We're working to help young people be the best that they can be through our programs. That is the entire reason for our existence."


One Waterside Dr.
Norfolk, VA 23510