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March 09--Bayfront Maritime Center officials plan to launch two new maritime programs this spring.
Veterans at E.A.S.E. will provide mentored sailing opportunities and vocational skills to veterans, including those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Bayfront Maritime Center Executive Director Rich Eisenberg.
E.A.S.E., the Erie Adaptive Sailing Experience, is one of the center's trademark programs.
Eisenberg also announced plans to begin a new community rowing program.
Eisenberg is modeling Veterans at E.A.S.E. after a similar successful program -- Veterans On Deck -- in Charleston, S.C.
"That program has been underway for about five years," Eisenberg said. "They have had a lot of success working with veterans to alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms."
Eisenberg said he and his staff will work with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA hospital in Erie.
"There are trained professional counselors at the Veterans Administration who are experts in helping these veterans with the symptoms and getting past this," Eisenberg said. "But only 40 percent of returning veterans go to see the counselors, and of those, only 40 percent return for the second time.
"There's these trained professionals who are having trouble getting the two groups -- veterans and counselors -- together. In Charleston, this program has shown to be real effective in getting the veterans to come in, to keep coming back and to bring their friends and fellow veterans."
The creation of the Veterans at E.A.S.E. program is being funded in part by a corporate donation from the Erie Insurance Giving Network, Eisenberg said.
"We did a few expeditionary sails with veterans in the fall with some big groups," Eisenberg said. "It was sort of a soft start. They were thrilled. One of the vets stayed and helped us pull a boat out of the water and stayed around here and helped us on campus. He expressed an interest and wanted to volunteer."
On each sail, Bayfront Maritime Center and VA staffers will sail with veterans on Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie once or twice a week aboard Maritime Center vessels.
Veterans will sail on a 34-foot-long racing catamaran and other vessels, Eisenberg said.
The sailing portion of the program is scheduled to begin in late May and continue through October.
Veterans at E.A.S.E. will be held year-round. It will center on boat building projects and maintenance activities, and on helping veterans find employment, including maritime positions.
"Right now, there's a 20 percent shortage of skilled workers in the maritime industry," Eisenberg said. "That's projected by the U.S. Coast Guard to go to 35 percent in 10 years, because a lot of the personnel are retiring. These are excellent, high-paying jobs, and veterans are well-positioned to be filling these positions because of all their military training."
Veterans can tackle boat maintenance duties on a 32-foot steel-hulled sailing vessel that was donated to the center.
The vessel needs deck repairs, which would involve welding and woodworking skills.
Bayfront Maritime Center personnel also work with at-risk youths and young adults, youths with disabilities, and children of refugees, immigrants and migrant workers.
The center's other trademark programs are the Bayfront Alternative Education Program and the Project Sail after-school program.
The center's community rowing program, which will be open to the public, is scheduled to start in May.
"We're hoping large segments of people who want to row who never had chance to row can get out on the water," Eisenberg said.
Officials will announce schedule information at a later date.
Two St. Ayles skiffs and several other rowing boats and dories will be used, Eisenberg said. A Maritime Center staff member would be on each boat.
"Rowing is great exercise," Eisenberg said. "It gets people outside and it gets people onto our best natural assets -- Presque Isle Bay and Lake Erie.
"There will be a fee for the people who can pay, and the people, students, kids who can't pay won't have to pay. It will be sort of a scaled fee -- pay-if-you-can."
RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.
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