The organization announces next steps in helping at-risk youth.
Michael Long was sick of the status quo.
At-risk youth don’t have a ton of alternatives before incarceration, and that’s where SailFuture, founded by Long in 2012, comes in. The organization’s mission is simple- keep kids out of prison. SailFuture, which is based in Saraosta, is an alternative to incarceration for boys in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The idea is to take students that aren’t responding to other programs, pair them up with a mentor and use sailing to form a strong relationship between them.
Long, a part-time Sarasota resident, said it wasn’t okay that kids were being faulted for programs not working. His philosophy is that if the program isn’t working, it’s the programs fault, not the kids.
In hopes of reaching their goal the organization is currently renovating a house on the bay of St. Petersburg where youth participants will live after their three-month stay on the sailboat "Defy the Odds." Long announced the construction of the SailFuture Group Home Model and a partnership with Eckerd, a leading agency in child welfare services, at a Welcome Home party for "Defy the Odds" on July 16. Long said SailFuture’s lack of housing was its shortfall. He said the participants who went back to their previous housing after SailFuture didn’t do well and would wreak havoc in other placements and run away or start fights. He said the new house will be different because it won’t be a group home to them.
“It’s not a place they run away from, not a place they’re breaking walls out because it’s not like anything they’ve been in before,” Long said.
Graduates of the program are helping with the renovations that began a month ago and are slated to be complete in August, but some funding is still missing, such as money for beds, the building of a dock and seawall repairs.
The house will be home to six boys at a time and a mental health counselor and teacher will serve as house parents. Two graduates will serve as staff. The participants can live in the house until until they turn 18 when they move to other housing, called the Graduate Living Community, where they live for a reduced rent. The graduates who stay at the Graduate Living Community are either working or attending college and will serve as mentors for the younger boys living in the new house. Long said there’s really nothing better than for past participants to show the 15 and 16-year-olds what they can get out of the program. Long said it’s been challenging to create a program that will actually work, but he doesn’t question the difference he’s making in participants’ lives.
“The privilege to be part of someone else’ life in a meaningful way that impacts the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years of their life, impacts whether they’ll be a good father, whether they’ll go back to jail, that’s the great privilege in the world,” he said.