Sailing program changing outlook for teens struggling in foster care

- A new foster care program is helping teens sail into a brighter future.

Mike Long is teaching his crew of teens sailboating etiquette.

The boys are part of Sail Futures, a comprehensive foster care program started five years ago for teen boys, ages 15 through 18. 

The goal is to change attitudes of kids who are having problems living in the foster care system.

"I love it," said participant Anthony Patel. "It's a second family for me, honestly."

Long, his staff, and six boys live in a million dollar home together for two years. The teens go to school and get job training and counseling, all under the same roof.

"We recognize, early on, for these boys to make real progress academically, emotionally, and just build the skills that they need to grow into independent young men," Mike said. "They need to have relationships with the people trying to teach them those things."

Sail Futures seems to be having a positive effect. Tionne Williams has been at the home for two months.

"I believe it works better, It's more like a family to me," he said. 

"If it wasn't for this program I wouldn't have my G.E.D. I wouldn't have been enrolled in college. I wouldn't have a job. I would still be doing the bad stuff that I was doing in Clearwater," Anthony added.

Once the teens are comfortable sailing, they take trips around Florida and take on community service projects.

"Putting our boys, who almost always in their life have been in the position to receive services, to go out and give services. That's really empowering for them," Mike explained. "And they learn to rely on each other just like a family."

"We can't walk away from each other. If we get into an argument, we have to face each other and figure out the argument and deal with our problems," Tionne said.

"It takes away any distractions and it forces you on only what matters and that helping these boys grow day in and day out," Mike said.

The program has a 85 percent success rate. www.stpete.com/sailfuture

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