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The Fuel Program
Growing the Legacy of the Shenandoah

By Tessa Permar

A week spent heaving ropes and singing shanties aboard the Shenandoah is a rite of passage for so many Vineyard kids. Casey Blum and Ian Ridgeway founded the FUEL Program (Foundation for Underway Experiential Learning) to continue the legacy of seafaring education established by Captain Bob Douglas. Both discovered a sense of place aboard the tall ships as campers, and worked their way up to crew, first mates, and finally captains. Blum shares, “When Shenandoah was donated to us, it felt like a very natural transition. We’ve been able to build off this amazing foundation that Captain Bob gave us.”

The FUEL program continues to offer parent-organized trip for Vineyard School kids, open enrollment youth voyages for any kids ages 9-17, an all-ages week, and an occasional charter. They recently ran a credit awarding course for students of the University of New Hampshire. Ridgeway and Blum understand the impact of a week aboard Shenandoah. “The ship is challenging no matter what,” explains Blum. “Our staff really take the lens of trying to support the students through the experience and through the challenge, helping them build resilience and overcome the hurdles that come with being away from home for a week for the first time.” FUEL relies on donations and community support to keep the trips accessible: “Any kid that wants to come that lives on Martha’s Vineyard has the opportunity,” says Blum. “We don’t turn any family away due to cost.”    

In order to continue offering programming for island youth for generations and expand that programming to young adults and aspiring mariners, FUEL has implemented a $7 million capital campaign to renovate the ship. Working with Captain Douglas as a designer and advisor, they plan the rebuilding of Shenandoah as a community process, engaging with local tradespeople, shipwrights, and riggers, as well as generations of people who sailed. They are also actively gathering data around the impact of a trip on young islanders, as well as organizing the alumni community. “I don’t know of any other program that honors the sense of place in the way Shenandoah does,” reflects Blum.  

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