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Leveling community through sailing

by Scuttlebutt 13 Jul 04:28 PDT
Holly Church © Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center (Milwaukee, WI) is a private, not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 agency located just north of downtown in the heart of Veterans Park at McKinley Marina. MCSC's mission is to promote sailing and make Lake Michigan available to everyone in the Milwaukee community through quality programming. Amongst the teaching platforms is the famous J/24 sailboat.

Facilities like this are the gateway for introducing people to the sport, and WDJT-TV, a CBS-affiliated television station in Milwaukee, recognized the center's leader in its weekly segment, Natalie's Everyday Heroes:

The Milwaukee Community Sailing Center works hard to make sure sailing is accessible for everyone. The center is unique in that you don't have to have a lot of skills, or a lot of money, to get out in a boat. Holly Church is the director at the center, and she's this week's everyday hero.

Church understands learning something new can be intimidating for anyone. "They're all scared, in the beginning, because none of them really know what to expect or what's going to happen," she said of new students.

But every year, kids and adults alike come to the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center to do just that. "Basically, what we do is we teach people how to sail and then they get free access to our equipment to sail on all summer long," Church said.

She has been working with the sailing center for the last 25 years, but her love for sailing started long before that. "I learned how to sail here when I was 18," she remembers, and has been a cheerleader, innovator, and advocate for the organization ever since.

"She's very instrumental in coming up with a lot of the different programming down here," said Don Ellingsen, member and former board president.

Church is proud that the City of Milwaukee had the foresight to keep the lake accessible for everyone. "Most places privatize the lake," she said. "And Milwaukee has kept it public and I think that's amazing."

Ellingsen, who's been a member since 1981, said Church's leadership has made a big difference in the quality of the programs they offer. "She's really re-energized the club, in that she's really brought kind of a new spirit to the club," he said.

US Sailing agrees. Church was recently named Outstanding Organizational Leader. She's humble about the national recognition.

"The sailing center is one of the country's premier sailing facilities," she said. "And we were lucky. It doesn't just take one person, though."

But Ellingsen stresses that she helps create an environment that keeps people coming back. And that's what Church wants—for people to set sail and enjoy all that Lake Michigan has to offer. "I think it gives people a chance to just get off shore for a little bit. Leave everything on shore, just regroup, especially in these days," Church said.

But the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center's work isn't only done on the water. It also goes into middle schools around the city to teach a S.T.E.M program using sailing. "We learn things like angles and weight distribution and how displacement works," she said.

She calls it an equalizer, and said it doesn't matter who you are, or where you're from, anyone can learn. "Sailing is a leveling platform. It doesn't matter to kids, when you get into a boat, if you've never been in a boat it's a leveling platform," Church said.

This article was originally published in Scuttlebutt at www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/2020/07/05/leveling-community-through-sailing

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