Sailing toward the future

For 20 children from the Oak View community in Huntington Beach, getting to sail in 4-foot boats at the Newport Sea Base is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Since June, they learned how to tie different types of knots, learned essential boating terminology and practiced sailing alone.

All that worked paid off Saturday when they boarded much larger 35- to 40-foot sailboats at the Balboa Yacht Club in Corona del Mar and coasted through Newport Harbor.

The Big Boat Sail, as event organizers called it, was part of the Oak View-based El Viento program — which helps underprivileged children from that community get into college.

Around five club members donated their sailboats and time and navigated the length of Newport Harbor. About three or four incoming fifth graders, along with family members and El Viento supporters, were on each of the five boats.

Some of the El Viento students sat at the front of the boat and soaked in the experience. Others got the chance to get behind the helm and steer the boat.

While the cruises through the harbor fared well for most, others ran into a little problem.

Naomi Morales, 10, said the boat "crashed a little" and she almost fell off .

"I grabbed her by the lifejacket," said Jesus Torres, who was quick to react. "She was about to fall in, so I grabbed it."

Torres, 10, said he learned that maneuver when they were practicing how to recover from capsizing.

It was the third time the nonprofit hosted the sailing event, with the last one held about three years ago, according to Julie Taber, operations manager for El Viento.

"Members of the Balboa Yacht Club have been asking when they're going to be doing this again," she said.

The idea of having the children sail stems from the nonprofit's founder Jack Shaw, who is also a member of the Balboa Yacht Club, and his love of sailing.

"I wanted to get the kids to experience something besides the barrio," he said. "This sailing became a metaphor for life, to get them out and get them to see a different reality."

Iosefa Alofaituli, executive director of the Oak View Renewal Partnership, said he heard two girls that were on one of the sailboats yell out that Saturday was the best day ever. He appreciates El Viento's work to help the community grow.

"It demonstrates how exposure to new things brings a lot enthusiasm and hope for our community," he said.

Shaw and his wife started the nonprofit in 1997, wanting to help children get into college. He said he was directed to the Oak View community — bordered by Warner and Slater Avenues, Beach Boulevard and Gothard Street — and soon took the Latino-dominated neighborhood under his wing.

According to the Oak View Renewal Partnership's website around 32% of those in the community were below the poverty line in 2011, with a per capita income of $16,673.

"These kids are our tomorrow and we're giving them a start in terms of having the kinds of choice and opportunities that guys like me always had," Shaw said. "It's a matter of opportunity and giving them a break."

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