Tacoma youth sailing program wins $500,000 grant

Five months ago, Tacoma’s Youth Marine Foundation was in the doldrums.

Its signature vessel, the 90-foot yacht Odyssey, had a ripped mainsail and a dead engine. Its bank account was so low, program managers feared the tall ship would have to spend the summer tied to its dock on the Thea Foss Waterway.

Now the wind has changed.

Thanks to a rush of community donations, the Odyssey is up and running again.

More good news arrived Tuesday when the Seattle Foundation announced it will give $500,000 to the youth sailing program from the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust, which it manages.

“Our fingers were crossed for a long while,” said Malcolm M. Russell, executive director of the Youth Marine Foundation. “The grant represents one of the largest awards it (the Bierkenfeld Trust) has ever given to one organization.

“This is great news for our community and for our youth maritime programs here in Tacoma.”

Russell said $250,000 of the grant money will be used to support the Odyssey and the program’s other vessels, including the 78-foot motor vessel Charles N. Curtis and the 38-foot captain’s gig, Verite.

“They (members of the awards committee) were impressed by the center’s programs and how they inspire self-confidence and the competency to gain access to career-oriented maritime skills,” said Mary Grace Roske, the Seattle Foundation’s communications director.

“It’s a great match for Mr. Birkenfeld’s interests and also for the community. And it’s pretty exciting.”

The Youth Marine Foundation provides boating camps and sailing instruction and marine science excursions for schools.

It’s also the sea base of operations for the Sea Scouts in Tacoma. The group began in 1924, and this year is celebrating its 90th-year anniversary.

Russell said the remaining $250,000 in the grant will be used to renovate and remodel the main building at the Tacoma Youth Marine Center, located just north of the Murray Morgan Bridge in downtown Tacoma.

That’s short of the $420,000 the foundation wants to spend on the building project, Russell said, but it’s a tremendous start.

“A half-million-dollar investment into our community and our program here in Tacoma from a funder based in Seattle is great news,” he said. “We’ll be looking to the community here and Tacoma area funders to help match funds and get us to our overall goal.”