I CAN Yachting Program Helps Foster Kids Learn the Ropes of Life


On the bow of the 100ft sailing yacht ‘S/Y Wisdom’ the name ‘No Ordinary Liz’ has also been carefully painted for all to see while moored in port or alongside.

The ship’s moniker is a tribute to one Liz Sutherland, who is referred to – because of her drive to succeed and excel in life – as the “inspiration” not only of the ship, but of the entire I CAN Foundation for vulnerable young people.

I CAN is a Weston, Florida-based nonprofit organization that empowers young adults ages 18-24, most of whom have aged out of foster care, to soar into a brighter future. . These adults go on 90-day sailing trips in the Caribbean and, on board, learn about other cultures, sailing and social skills, sea survival, oceanography, meteorology, filmmaking and various skills of life and leave with diving certifications and captain’s licenses.

For each I CAN trip, six to eight participants go out every three months for their adventures at sea, 27 of the 90 days are totally at sea. The yacht will then depart on April 25 from St. Petersburg and travel to the Bahamas, Dominican Republic , Antigua, Saint Lucia and Dominica.

Sutherland, now 41, was on an I CAN adventure from October 1-11, 2021, traveling to the island nation of Antigua. Although due to an engine malfunction the yacht was unable to sail, the New Port resident Richey and her boyfriend remained on board while moored in a marina, working with the crew and learning about local culture and food. They also volunteered with Meals on Wheels to deliver food to elderly residents, planted trees, met with organizations and students, made inspirational bracelets and helped out at a Salvation Army location for girl victims of sexual violence.

“Involvement in the local community has had a huge impact,” says Sutherland, who works as a leadership empowerment coordinator in Tampa.

Sutherland was born in Cadiz, Spain, but at the age of 5 she was taken by the man she considered her father to her grandmother’s house in Waynesville, North Carolina, and was left there with her older brother and younger sister.

At 13, Sutherland was placed in foster care, separated from her siblings, and remained there until she was 18. She worked for Walmart, became “homeless” and, with grants and financial aid, graduated in 2003 with an Associate of Arts. diploma. She then earned her degree in Computer Information Systems and Criminal Justice at Western Carolina University.

The I CAN Foundation journey and experiences have been another paddle in the wave of life accomplishments since leaving foster care, Sutherland adds. I CAN Founder Sean Ives and Jeff Wisdom of the Wisdom Family Foundation resource referral organization for children and families have invited her to many of the newer I CAN and team projects. .

Sutherland published her book ‘No Ordinary Liz’ in 2018 to show how she ‘survived and thrived’ in foster care, saying: ‘I’m trying to change society’s perception of foster care. People think you are a criminal or a juvenile delinquent. I want people to walk around in their shoes.

“I like to say to these young adults, even though it says, ‘No ordinary Liz’, it’s actually for you – for your story. They’re part of my story, now I’m part of their story. “, she adds.
Part of this story is lived by I CAN participants like Gauge Adams. The 18-year-old from Grand Junction, CO was recently on the yacht S/Y Wisdom-No Ordinary Liz in St. Petersburg Harbor.

Adams was in foster care until he was 14 and now lives in Grand Junction, working online for an arcade. He boarded the boat on April 8 and joined I CAN after discovering it on Facebook through his mentor, Kim Raff. The current trip is his first navigation.

“I think it will be a great learning experience, to do things you haven’t learned yet or want to learn. I can’t wait to get out there and sail and see what’s out there,” he says.

In the United States, 5 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in school or working, says I CAN. Moreover: only 1 in 10 young people from low-income families graduate from a four-year college; more than 23,000 children age out of foster care each year in the United States; and only one in two has a job at age 24.

According to I CAN, the foundation is working with various host programs to determine options for student participation, asking local programs supporting the initiative to find boating participants. I CAN often say that once a young person turns 18, they are no longer supported by those who CAN help them prepare for their future.

Preparing for life outside of foster care is one of the most important parts of the I CAN Foundation’s goals, says founder Sean Ives.

From the yacht in Ft. Lauderdale, Ives, 51, says I CAN grew out of his friendship with Wisdom after the two looked for “cool or unique” ways to help children. Ives, originally from South Africa, has taught sailing, worked in the corporate field and is now a yacht manager. He says that after spending time at sea 30 years ago, he realized the discipline and focus he had gained from those adventures.

“It has boosted my confidence, self-esteem and self-confidence so much at this age. I thought how amazing it would be if every child this age could have this experience. Life lessons from a goat aboard this boat at 19 stayed with me,” he said.

The other main element of I CAN yacht trips is the social aspect, as the crew becomes a participant’s family for three months.

“You live with them, you eat with them, spend every day – good and bad – going through things together,” says Ives, who continues, “These are all life lessons and so necessary for the community of families to welcome as they get older.. We need to show that they really, really CAN do it.We want to show that to the students.

For more information, call (828) 226-4650 or visit I CAN Foundation Online.


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