August 2020 View from the Quarterdeck

FabNewport students don harnesses and climb out onto the headrig

Hello, friends.

I hope that this letter finds you safe and in good health as COVID-19 continues to rage across the country. It has been a number of months since I last wrote to you, and thought that I would take a few moments to bring you up to date on how OHPRI and the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry have been faring as we navigate through these challenging times.

In the early days of the pandemic, our programs scheduled for 2020 were either cancelled or postponed. As such, we placed a small crew aboard the ship to ensure her safety while the rest of our staff explored any potential program and revenue options that we could undertake within the restrictions we had here in Rhode Island. While we think about experiences aboard the OHP as not only immersive, but removed from the digital dominance that is so pervasive in our everyday lives, our staff and crew took a deep dive into content generation for virtual learning, the products of which can be found on our YouTube channel. We produced both live webinars for K-12 and higher education entities as well as rich content videos under the “Ask Us Anything” banner on subjects ranging from our diesel engines to how to figure out the depth of the water with a lead line. In concert with these efforts, we produced curriculum guides and lesson plans that allow teachers, parents and other educators the ability to integrate this content into their own learning environments whether at “school” or at home.

Our “Ask Us Anything” Video Series on YouTube

In early June, we hosted a virtual fundraiser with retired US Navy Vice Admiral P. Gardner Howe III, who regaled us with stories from his career as both a Navy Seal and as president of the Naval War College. VADM Howe, who joined our Board of Directors earlier this year, highlighted the power and impact that the sea had in his personal journey, and how he sees it as the ideal classroom for those that participate in OHPRI programming.

As Rhode Island reopened, we bid farewell to our winter berth at Bowen’s Wharf and returned to our summer home at Fort Adams. Through a new partnership with nonprofit makerspace FabNewport, we provided enrichment experiences as part of their “The Newport Experience” summer program aboard our ship ranging from climbing aloft to learning about the ship’s safety equipment. Opportunities like this, to have students explore the ship, highlight that impactful inquiry-based learning that can happen aboard even when alongside the dock. We were also able to host the Newport Police Department’s summer camp aboard. While not a repeat of the underway experience they had last year, a fun and educational time was still had.

Photo by Harry Manko

With a degree of optimism, we looked forward to August and what we were still hoping would be the opportunity to get underway with the Naval Academy Prep School. This bright light amid the storm was sadly extinguished when we learned that the new students reported aboard with COVID, and as such, our programming slated for later this month was abruptly cancelled.

This program represented the lion’s share of our revenue for the month and could have been a death knell to our organization. Instead, harnessing the lessons that we have learned through our experiences at sea, we took stock of our situation, the resources we had at hand, and expedited the launch of the Perry Corps, our innovative workforce development program whose start we had put on hold due to the Coronavirus.

In the span of two days, we were able to raise nearly $25,000 in pledged support between individuals and corporate sponsorship. This pilot version, which will get underway in the coming days, is a taste of what we intend to become our flagship program, which provides participants with the ideas and ideals, the hard and soft skills that they need to access high wage jobs in the maritime cluster and beyond. I encourage you to visit our website and learn more about the program. Armed with experience and newly minted credentials, graduates will be ready to take on leadership roles in the effort to build a more resilient and equitable Rhode Island.

Participation in this program, including all fees and credentialing costs, are $5000 per person. One of the many lessons that have been reinforced over the last several months is that lack of access to opportunity, lack of economic security, and social inequity has had a direct correlation to the spread of COVID-19. In simple terms, the better off you are, the less likely the disease has impacted your community. In recognition of this, we want to be able to offer this experience to participants without the tuition cost being a barrier. I invite you to sponsor a participant directly, or make a contribution to the Perry Corps scholarship fund. Help us empower the next generation of leaders through experiencing the sea! To make a donation and help support the Perry Corps, click here.

We are by no means out of the proverbial storm. But as seafaring has taught us for millennia, a well-found ship, with a first rate crew will not only survive, but thrive.

Don’t Give Up The Ship!
Yours in gratitude,

Captain Jonathan Kabak