By Kami-Leigh Agard
There’s a popular aphorism that states, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and this Friday, September 29, join The Rockaway Hotel + Spa at their poolside fundraiser aiming to raise hopes for Rising Tide Effect (RTE), a nonprofit organization that not only provides free swimming lessons and water safety education for underserved communities, but also exposes them to rewarding opportunities in the blue economy. Organizers beckon the community to come dance the night away to live music, and indulge on appetizers and drinks, as well as a silent auction and raffle prizes, which includes a week-long stay in a luxury bungalow at the hotel, a signed poster of Ryan Murphy, and two roundtrip tickets to anywhere from JetBlue.
Alarmed by frequent youth drownings on Rockaway’s beaches and the lack of swimming education for underserved youth in black and brown communities, in 2020, Kaitlin “Kate” Krause founded RTE and curated the first pilot swimming program at The Rockaway Hotel. One of their first group of students was from St. John’s Residence For Boys. In 2021, the program expanded with the Swim Initiative Program, which in collaboration with Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy and other local organizations, provided free monthly swimming classes at the hotel pool. Soon after RTE’s partnerships grew with the Water Safety Coalition, which counts Lara Beyu Surf Collective, Swim Strong Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Rockaway Women For Progress, Rockaway Beach Civic Association and Rockaway Film Festival as members. With the Coalition’s steadfast support and advocacy, Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato’s legislation creating the first-ever Commission to Prevent Childhood Drownings in NYS was signed into law in 2022. In May of this year, Krause was appointed its commissioner.
For Michi Jigarjian, managing partner of 7G Group, owner of the hotel, who also serves as vice chairperson on RTE’s board, partnering with Krause was a no brainer.
She shared, “What was staggering from the beginning was the statistics of drownings that were happening on the peninsula specific to the Brown and Black community, and the lack of resources that were provided to help make a difference. So, it was very clear from the beginning that there was a need on the peninsula. And being that we were one of the first operating pools to be back and up and running, it was imperative to us to make a difference. After doing research, we were able to understand some of the gaps where the lack of pools was playing in the swim initiative and the difference the hotel could potentially make.
“And so, we targeted youth ages 12 to 22 when we first started the pilot program, so that we could get them ocean ready. So, we were sort of one of the cogs of the bigger wheel to make that change. I’m a New Yorker, but I’m not from Rockaway. However, being partners with five-generations of locals, the Tubridy brothers, and learning from them and being introduced to a lot of the peninsula’s leaders—as owners of the hotel, it was really important to us that we were not only responsible business owners, but also good neighbors.”
Incredibly, since partnering with the hotel and other community collaborators, RTE has served over 200 youth, and this past summer, the nonprofit further expanded with the Swim Safety Corps (SSC).
In addition to teaching critical water safety skills, the SSC earn-as-you learn six-week pilot program gave underserved youth opportunities to obtain their CPR certification; classes in financial literacy, meditation and mindfulness; gave them exposure to careers in the blue economy, including becoming NYC lifeguards and working for NYC Ferry; also, kayaking, sailing, surfing and more.
When Krause was asked why she pivoted with the SSC to expand RTE’s mission beyond water safety and swimming classes, she boiled it down to giving them a chance to dream big.
“I realized early on that it’s about the size of the fish tank you’re swimming in. That’s how big you’re able to dream. If you don’t expose yourself or get yourself into a bigger fish tank, your dreams are limited to what you only know. So, essentially by going on the ferry and having other new experiences like we get when we travel, we learn something new about ourselves in a different place. It’s about giving these youth a chance to discover themselves with new experiences, all in an effort to make a bigger fish tank. This is just the beginning. They can go anywhere they want,” Krause said.
For Jigarjian, with a fundraising goal of $2M for RTE over the next two years, teaming up with Krause is further propelling the hotel’s mission to really make a profound impact for youth in Rockaway and beyond, including even giving them vocational opportunities to be lifeguards.
“I really am so passionate about this, and feel very lucky to be in partnership with Kate as a hotel and as a foundation. The hotel has not only provided the space, but we’ve also provided the necessary funds to be able to pay and get these programs off the ground. And so, that partnership is very strong because of Kate’s leadership and her passion, and we’re just really so excited about how quickly it has grown and where we can go from here. These programs not only save lives, but also create a pipeline for future lifeguards, which then creates a whole other ecosystem; creating economic mobility not just for the kids, but also for Rockaway as a peninsula. Having that strong lifeguard force is something that we lack,” Jigarjian said.
For Krause, the fundraiser is also an opportunity for people to come together and experience joy, while supporting RTE’s mission.
“With RTE about to be three years old, we’re still building a culture, and so, with people showing up at the event—just their presence—would bring so much joy for us as a collective. It goes back to the similar experience of joy just being in the water. Whatever kind of week or month someone has had, we want them to come and prioritize joy Friday night, just by simply dancing by the pool, enjoying each other’s company—all in the spirit of a good cause,” Krause said.
The Rockaway Hotel+Spa Poolside Fundraiser for Rising Tide Effect is this Friday, September 29, 7 p.m. at the hotel (108-10 Rockaway Beach Drive). For tickets and more info about RTE, visit: risingtideeffect on Instagram, or websites: https://www.risingtideeffect.org or https://www.therockawayhotel.com/happenings