A record number of teams are expected to compete for the Kate Risley Cup at the Seventh Annual Young Parents Regatta Saturday, August 18. Teen mothers from Boston, Chelsea, Holyoke, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, will gather at Brunelle's Marina in South Hadley, to row in four- and eight-person crew shells on the Connecticut River beginning at 10 am. The Young Parents Regatta is hosted by Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, a program of the Care Center.
Founded in 1986, the Care Center, an alternative education center located at 247 Cabot Street in Holyoke, is one of the oldest and most comprehensive providers of services for pregnant and parenting teens in Massachusetts. Services include on-site daycare, counseling, help making the transition to employment and higher education, nutritious food, and door-to-door transportation. The Care Center has received national recognition as a model for youth empowerment, the strengthening of young families, and teen pregnancy prevention, and has been designated an Adolescent Family Life Demonstration Project by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Care Center is run more like an elite prep school than an ordinary high school. Each year more than 140 pregnant and parenting teens, almost all on welfare and high-school dropouts, attend the Care Center. In the morning, students take traditional academic classes to prepare for their GED exam. But in the afternoon, they choose an elective ranging from rowing or golf to dance or photography to creative writing or religion, which they take in six-week cycles. They frequently take the results of their work out into the world, whether it's an art show on the walls of a shopping mall in Hadley, a poetry reading and book signing at a bookstore in South Hadley, or the Young Parents Regatta. Nearly 80 percent of the Care Center graduates go on to higher education.
Eight years ago, the Care Center and Mount Holyoke College started Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, and a year later, with support from the New England Women's Fund, added satellite programs in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Hartford, Middletown, and Norwalk, Connecticut. Rowing Strong, Rowing Together pairs social service providers with college and community rowing clubs to provide access to the rivers and lakes where the teen mothers live. Many of the rowers have had no prior knowledge of this traditionally elite sport, which requires expensive equipment and a boathouse and launching area.
This year, rowing teams from Boston's Children's Hospital (with G-ROW), Chelsea's ROCA, Inc. (Gentle Giant Rowing Club), Holyoke's the Care Center (Mount Holyoke College), Redfield House and the Helen Berube Teen Parent Center in Pittsfield (Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Society), and the Village for Families and Children in Hartford (Riverfront Recapture) have been practicing all summer for the Seventh Annual Young Parents Regatta.
More than 300 spectators are expected to be on hand to cheer the rowers. Volunteers from the Care Center and Northampton Youth and Community Rowing and Holyoke Rows will staff the event, and the U. S. Coast Guard will provide patrol boats for safety. A number of area businesses have donated items for the regatta and the awards lunch to follow, and Mount Holyoke College will supply the boats.
Rowing, like many of the extracurricular activities at the Care Center, "connects low-income youth to a larger world," said Anne Teschner, executive director of the Care Center, "which powerfully translates into greater confidence and success in the classroom. The students learn what it means to rely on each other and work as a team. They develop physical strength and discipline in what is, for most of them, their first chance to participate in an organized sport. They get used to having high expectations and experiencing success."
Competing for the Kate Risley Cup
For the first time this year, teams in the Young Parents Regatta will be competing for the Kate Risley Cup. The trophy is named in memory and honor of Kate Risley, a competitive athlete for whom team spirit and intensity on the field were deeply important. Her memory is honored not only by this trophy but by the work of the Kate Risley Foundation, a major supporter of Rowing Strong, Rowing Together since its inception. The Foundation supports innovative programs that encourage girls and young women to engage in competitive team athletics, regionally and nationwide.
Beginning this year, the first-place finishers at the Young Parents Regatta will be awarded the Kate Risley Cup in Kate's honor. The winning teams get to keep the trophies for display at their home site until the following year's regatta.
The rain date for the regatta is Sunday, August 19.