Parenting Teenage Girls Triumph through Crew
"Stick together! You can do it!" yelled coxswain Silia
Vega, encouraging her teammates to bring the shell across the finish
line. The eight rowers depending on Vega for direction wouldn't
guess that the woman putting them through their paces with such skill
and authority can't swim. Nor would the dozens of fans and media
who crowded South Hadley's Brunelle's Marina August 25 to
cheer Vega, and thirty-six other parenting teens from four states,
in the first Young Parents Regatta. The regatta, which is expected
to become an annual event, was the culmination of the Rowing Strong,
Rowing Together crew program developed by the College and Holyoke's
"I wanted to challenge the water," said Vega, who selected
crew over many other extracurriculars offered through the Care Center.
"It took me a long time to get into that boat," she said,
"but now my teammates depend on me." Overcoming fears and
developing leadership skills are just a few of the many benefits of
Rowing Strong, Rowing Together, according to Care Center executive
director Anne Teschner, who started the program in collaboration with
the College's crew program in 1999. Since then, using College equipment,
Holyoke teens have learned to row during twice-weekly summer sessions
under the direction of MHC assistant crew coach Tessa Spillane 95.
Rowing Strong, Rowing Together was modeled after a successful rowing
program developed and led by crew Olympian Holly Metcalf 81
for at-risk girls in the Boston area.
In light of the program's success with the Care Center, Teschner
and MHC intern Jenny Simon '02 were inspired to expand Rowing
Strong Rowing Together and identified other potential partnerships
between young-parent organizations and rowing associations. Now, there
are five such pairings along the Connecticut Riverfrom Norwalk,
Connecticut, to Hanover, New Hampshire. All the programs, which formed
the competition at the regatta, are supported by a $50,000 grant from
the New England Women's Fund and are coordinated by Spillane.
"This group has inspired me in more ways than I can ever pin
down," said Spillane. "All I know is that the regatta brought
tears to my eyes on Saturday."
Spillane has spread some of her own inspiration, says Teschner, who
sees the rowers learning collaboration and discipline that transfers
to the Care Center classroom as a willingness to stick with projects.
She notes that last year, thirteen of twenty-two Care Center graduates-many
of them Rowing Strong, Rowing Together participants-went on to pursue
college degrees at Holyoke Community College (HCC).
"Besides helping them feel really, really good, rowing gives
these women a sense of their own power," Teschner said. "It
puts them into a larger context beyond their neighborhood and city,
lets them be with MHC staff and student volunteers, and shows them
that there are many options for who they can be in this community."
Frances Perkins Scholar Irma Medina '03, a Care Center tutor and rowing
assistant, sees the same effects. She finds that exposure to MHC tells
participants, "You're worthy, and nothing is out of your grasp."
Medina plays the important role of translating Spillane's commands
and pep talks for the Care Center's Spanish-speaking rowers.
Regatta participant Johanna Diaz was all smiles as she posed with teammates for post-race photos. "We wouldn't be able to row together if we didn't stick together," she said, reinforcing Teschner's claims that rowing combats the isolation of teen mothering and even bridges neighborhood and language gaps. Diaz surprised her family in July by choosing the six-week rowing course. Perhaps they won't be surprised next fall, when she plans to start choosing college courses at HCC.