Senior Todd Scherzer was 13 years old when he bought his own sailboat with money he made washing dishes in his hometown of South Brunswick, N.J.
Having sailed since he was a young boy, he fell in love with the water, and being on his boat made him feel free and untroubled.
When Scherzer transferred to Quinnipiac from Babson College in Boston last fall, he realized that not every child in New Haven was as lucky as he had been.
“There really wasn’t any place to sail, unless you’re rich,” said Scherzer, who is majoring in entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac.
Scherzer, who started a program called Sail New Haven, soon changed this. Sail New Haven was created to provide inner-city kids with sailing instructions at no cost, by raising enough money elsewhere.
Last summer, staffers at Sail New Haven teamed up with 75 kids, ranging from 11 to 18 years old, to teach them sailing, harbor history, navigation and environmental science.
“You don’t need to be really wealthy to go sailing,” said Scherzer. “We want to make it accessible to everyone. That’s part of our mission.”
Scherzer said one of the goals of the Sail New Haven program is to reach young children before they get involved in criminal or other destructive activities.
Many of the children who took part in the program had never set foot on a sailboat before, but after this two-week summer session they were comfortable on board the boats.
Scherzer pulled together a fleet of boats for the program by calling on local classified ads. The idea was to ask people to donate their boats instead of selling them.
“A lot of my job is convincing people to do things,” said Scherzer, with a smile. “When you are passionate about something, you find ways to make it happen.”
Scherzer started the project as a class exercise where he wrote a business plan to collaborate with Schooner Sound Learning, a non-profit organization in New Haven. This organization provides educational experiences in marine science.
Schooner Sound Learning provided some funding and some boats for Sail New Haven, while the rest of the money was raised by Scherzer.
“He seems to be putting an awful lot of energy into what he is doing,” said Associate Professor of Management Ronald McMullen, who advised Scherzer on this project along with Mark Thompson, associate dean of the School of Business.
“Todd is very goal oriented,” said McMullen. “He is pretty persistent in getting where he wants to get to.”
Sail New Haven won Quinnipiac’s first Business Plan Competition in May of 2001, and startup capital was provided by the university.
“Quinnipiac [also] sponsored the main sail and the jib sail on the base boat,” said Scherzer, and added that Quinnipiac has been very helpful in general with this project.
Schooner Sound Learning recently established a relationship with Quinnipiac. Work-study students can now get paid if they want to volunteer their time for Schooner.
“We are interested in education majors, people with a marine science or sailing background,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer is quick to point out that he had much help from his peers and classmates on the Sail New Haven project.
“That’s the nice thing with Quinnipiac,” he said. “You find people here with lots of different skill sets.”
Scherzer got help from some of his friends at WQAQ to record radio advertisements, and other friends helped created a media kit.
Faculty also assisted, said Scherzer. Cynthia Dubea, dean of the divisions of education, helped by reviewing the program’s leadership curriculum, while Thompson and McMullen consulted on the business plan.
“[Scherzer] has been able to enlist a lot of people here and there to help him get to where he wants to go,” McMullen said. “He keeps his forward momentum, and he gets there.”
McMullen said Scherzer sometimes encountered problems along the way, but that he always figured out ways to get around them.
In the future, McMullen said he could see Scherzer running his own business.
“He’s going to be in charge of something,” McMullen said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the head of a business that has to do with sailing.”
Scherzer has similar plans for himself. He said that as part of the I-95 construction, the state of Connecticut gave the city of New Haven $30 million to build a community boating center. Schooner and Sail New Haven will be managing this center once it is built, a few years from now.
“Personally, I would like to work at the community boating center,” said Scherzer. “My goal is to have every kid in New Haven have access to the water.”