TopSail Youth Program

  1. TopSail Youth Program - A Los Angeles Maritime Institute project

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  2. TopSail Youth Program - A Los Angeles Maritime Institute project

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TopSail Youth Program

TopSail Youth Program

TopSail Youth Program
Since its founding in 1992, the mission of The Los Angeles Maritime Institute's "TopSail Youth Program" has been to use sail training to provide youth with real-life challenges that develop knowledge, skills and attitudes needed…


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TopSail Youth Program
Since its founding in 1992, the mission of The Los Angeles Maritime Institute's "TopSail Youth Program" has been to use sail training to provide youth with real-life challenges that develop knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live healthy, productive lives. This multi-award-winning program has become a model program for others, worldwide.

Our Ships
Our educational venue is the ocean on board classic-rigged sailing vessels. The 70' topsail schooner Swift of Ipswich, the 94' gaff-topsail schooner Bill of Rights, and the Twin Brigantines Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson make a unique and challenging environment that nurtures the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are both necessary for the education of today's youth, and difficult to teach in the traditional classroom. Youth are encouraged to explore and respond to the world around them. Science, mathematics, physics, biology, geography, world trade, economics, history, literature, and even poetry suddenly come to life in this real world classroom.

The ships sail with a crew of mariner/ educators/ mentors. They are charged with encouraging and fostering the growth of: awareness, understanding, communication, cooperation and teamwork, along with the maturation of their attitudes regarding persistence, patience, endurance, courage and caution. These are all definite milestones, but the ultimate destination is individual responsibility, competency and leadership.

Our Organization
The Los Angeles Maritime Institute is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public-benefit corporation, founded by retired science teacher and sailing program pioneer, Captain Jim Gladson. The Institute is governed by a Board of 12 Directors. With a current full-time staff of only four (two administrative and two licensed captains) the Institute utilizes the skills and enthusiasm of several hundred volunteers to sail, maintain and support the ships and the programs, producing almost $4 worth of program for every donated dollar spent.

During the 2001-2002 school year, our TopSail Youth Program provided over 5000 youth sailing days to 67 different schools and youth organizations. In that year, our volunteers logged over 48,000 job specific hours (the equivalent of about 24 full-time employees). There is no minimum time commitment for our volunteers, no previous experience is necessary and no fees are required. Volunteers are required to take a series of "Program Delivery" classes to ensure consistent program delivery and proper interaction with both youth and adults crews.

Our History

In 2009 we're going strong.

Founded in 1992
A retired science teacher of 32 years, Captain "Jim" Gladson has served as the president and visionary of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, a volunteer non-profit organization that he founded in 1992.

It actually all began during the final 18 years of his teaching career with LAUSD when he developed and operated a “sail training” program with students from the Alternative schools where he was teaching. The students, their parents and the other staff members were consistent with their positive evaluation of the program and the importance of the educational benefits, both for the enrolled students and the school as a whole.

When the School District offered an early retirement program in the winter of 1991, Jim Gladson seized that as an opportunity to pursue the realization of a long held vision of a program designed to meet the needs of a much larger community of under-served youth. He was able to visualize a model for a character-building youth sail training program to be operated by a non-profit organization, composed of trained, skilled community-minded volunteers who would acquire, maintain and crew a sailing vessel suitable for the purpose. With his successful 18-year track record and more than an adequate ability to articulate the vision, it was relatively simple (in hindsight) for him to garner broad based community support for its implementation.

In 1992, Captain Gladson and a small group of his friends and associates became affiliated with the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, forming the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation). With less than $5,000 in donated funds and a one room office in the depths of the Maritime Museum, they sought a suitable vessel for purchase. A short time later, the Swift of Ipswich, a U.S.C.G. certified 70’ topsail schooner, was purchased with the help of loan from a local foundation, and they started sailing with groups of kids as the TopSail Youth Program. Inspired by Captain Gladson's dedication and vision, the loan was paid back in only three and a half years through the generosity of hundreds of local supporters, many of whom witnessed first hand, as volunteers, the results of this unique and nurturing program.

In 1997, due to the success of the program and the demand by a local youth agency for 260 additional sailing days, a second vessel, the 95-foot schooner Bill of Rights, was obtained. Since then, the TopSail Program has continued to demonstrate such notable success that the Institute completed construction of two 90’ brigantine tall ships designed and built specifically for the program - an estimated $8 million project! The Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson were launched on April 27, 2002. These new state-of-the-art vessels and their youth crews were proclaimed "The Official Tall Ship Ambassadors of the City of Los Angeles" by Mayor James Hahn and the Los Angeles City Council.

What has been the "secret" to the success of the TopSail Youth Program? It's the realization that nearly any kid will respond and grow beyond your fondest hopes when treated with dignity, respect and unconditional confidence in them - all presented with love. Not only did Jim Gladson come to understand that, but also he found that there are hundreds of others in our community who willingly and eagerly will join in such an endeavor and contribute, on an ongoing basis, generous amounts of time, sweat and cash to keep it happening.

Jim Gladson readily admits that he has been a "tree hugger" from way back, but noted that, while it's important to focus on protecting and respecting the environment, he believes that there is one endangered species that we cannot turn our back on - our next generation. It's imperative to look after the children headed toward trouble.

During the 2001-2002 school year alone, the TopSail Youth Program provided almost 6,000 youth sailing days to 67 different schools and youth organizations. In that year, volunteers logged over 47,000 job specific hours (the equivalent of about 24 full-time employees).

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