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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Milwaukee Community Sailing Center: Building Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence Through the Mastery of Sailing

Aug 01, 2013 04:27PM ● By Linda Sechrist

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Like several thousands of other Milwaukee adults and children, Margaret Jaberg looked to the cool clear waters of Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center (MCSC) when she decided that she needed an outdoor hobby to offset the amount of time that she spent working indoors. Because of her experiences on the water, Jaberg not only fell in love with the sport, but also gained a great deal of respect and admiration for the natural elements, an inevitable result of seeing the world from a different perspective.

Today, Jaberg serves as the CEO of the nonprofit MCSC, one of the top-ranked community sailing centers in the U.S. As a member of the center’s staff, she passionately serves alongside three other year-round employees, 40 paid, summertime instructors and 125 volunteer instructors.

Started by a group of local sailors who sought to form a community organization that would make sailing accessible to all Milwaukeans, the MCSC graduated its first adult basic sailing class in 1980. Located at the McKindley Marina, just north of downtown Milwaukee in Milwaukee’s Veterans Park, the Sailing Center works like a co-operative in that it offers low-cost memberships (there’s even a sliding scale based on age, experience and income) that give members access to the fleet of more than 80 boats owned and maintained by Milwaukee Community Sailing Centerthe club. After they earn a rating by demonstrating basic sailing skills, members can sail at no cost. The center also offers private boat owners 24-hour access to the lake, year-round boat and dinghy storage, mast stepping, boat launching and haul-out services.

Shaping Brighter Futures

In 1985, the MCSC began summer outreach programming for economically challenged and physically disabled youth. The nationally recognized Prams in the Park program introduces approximately 200 children to sailing and water safety at Juneau Park and Discovery World lagoons each summer. Thanks to the foresighted MCSC founders that understood the benefits that children would gain from their time on the water, the program is unlike any other.

Sailing is empowering—everyone onboard contributes to a successful voyage, which helps young people to develop self-confidence and discipline. Sailing is therapeutic—the rhythmic lapping of the waves on the hull and the breeze filling the sails are calming to the Milwaukee Community Sailing Centersoul. As a sustainable sport—using wind to sail is the original green energy—exposing children to its power fosters a new generation of environmentally aware individuals. “Every time someone has a positive experience on the water, the more likely they are to become stewards of our natural resources,” says Jaberg, who points out that before their participation in Prams in the Park, some children from economically disadvantaged families would not have known that the marina and boats existed in Milwaukee.

Learning how to sail isn’t just about having fun and building selfesteem. The sport also has far-reaching possibilities in the development of skills and insight that may prepare individuals for future jobs. For instance, the Milwaukee Fire Department operates the fireboat Trident. The police department uses the boat Zodiac to patrol the harbor and lakefront, mainly for safety purposes. The U.S. Coast Guard Base Milwaukee controls all of Lake Michigan under the command of District Nine for the U.S. Coastguard Sector Lake Michigan.Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

Additionally, the highly skilled specialties of boat building and sail making are niches for enthusiastic entrepreneurs. Pewaukee-based Harken, Inc., builds sailboat hardware and accessories. Someone might even pursue a position as a crewmember on one of the world’s mega-yachts. Not to be forgotten are the shore-based professionals employed by the maritime industry such as environmental lawyers.


MCSC collaborates with many local groups to provide the summer programs. In 2012, youth social partners included New Beginnings Are Possible, Pearls for Teen Girls and New Life Community Resources Center. Funding for the Adaptive Sailing Program—designed for children and adults with disabilities and complete with an accessible floating dock and hydraulic lifts for wheelchairs—has come from a large number of organizations and individuals, including the Christopher Reeve Foundation and Milwaukee Community Sailing Centerprivate families with disabled members. The MCSC is home to the 2013 U.S. Disabled Sailing Championship.

MCSC also hosts the University of Milwaukee Sail Club, the Marquette University Sail Team and the Milwaukee Chapter of the Great Lakes Sports Fishermen on its campus. Additionally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Great Lakes Sport Fishermen use MCSC docks every spring and fall to restock fingerlings into the lake. In May, 78,000 baby chinook salmon were acclimated and released into Lake Michigan. Last October, 20,000 young brown trout were released.

The New Pieper Learning Center

In 2009, the MCSC broke ground on a 6,000-square-foot facility that has allowed them to increase their program offerings as well as income opportunities. The Pieper Learning Center was completed in less than seven months, opening in spring, 2010, with two dedicated classrooms for indoor learning (especially useful in winter months), complete bathroom facilities including showers, and a rentable second-story multipurpose community room that can seat up to 150 theater-style or 120 for sit-down dinners. At 527 square feet, the Sullivan Deck extends the community room’s gathering space.Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

Although it is not officially certified to the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Jaberg points out that it is very green. “We didn’t feel like we needed a certification to brag about. What we did want was a year-round facility with instruction space that reflected the overall sense of responsibility that each of our members feels toward taking care of the environment,” she notes.

Fulfilling its sailing motto—“Use what nature gives you, from top to bottom”—has earned the facility awards and recognition. Its geothermal energy system has 14 wells bored 300 feet into the Earth to heat and cool the entire building, which operates in controlled zones. The domed roof gathers water and uses no downspouts, enabling storm water runoff to drain into a rain garden, instead of the municipal sewer system. Interior wood surfaces use sustainably harvested Garapa hardwood. A unique building, it serves as an example that environmentally responsible building on the water’s edge can be done.

“We are not a yacht club, so we don’t have a swimming pool or a restaurant. What we do have are people who are enthusiastic, generous with their time and love to teach economically disadvantaged and physically challenged children about a sport they typically would not have access to,” enthuses Jaberg.Milwaukee Community Sailing Center

To learn more about the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center, call 417-277-9094 or visit

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