The Los Angeles Maritime Institute is a public benefit corporation founded in 1992 to provide character-building sail training to youth. It is an affiliate of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, a facility of the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks. For over ten years, Alice Robinson has been volunteering at the Los Angeles Maritime Institute. Annually, she has been donating over 2,500 hours of service.
As a volunteer, Robinson reaches out daily to inner city youth through the Institute’s TopSail program. The Topsail Youth Program is a two-part experiential education adventure program aboard the schooners Swift of Ipswich and Bill of Rights. The first part of the program typically consists of a series of one-day sails in and around the Los Angeles – Long Beach Harbor area. Each day’s activities build on the skills and knowledge gained during the preceding day sails. These skills include problem solving, decision-making, planning, self-reliance and leadership. In the second part of the program participants utilize their newfound sense of empowerment and teamwork on a multi-day voyage to Catalina Island, 22 miles off the California coast. During the voyage the youth live aboard the ship, plan and fix all the meals and plan each day’s activities.
Topsail does not train youth for lives at sea, but uses the sea to educate youth for life. Many of the students involved in the program have been on the border of dropping out or failing in all of their classes. The students are placed together on a boat and taught that everyone is their teammate. They also have to work together in order to get the sailboat sailing. Robinson finds working directly with the students on the vessels is her greatest joy, and she has been given the nickname, “Captain Mom” as a result of her constant efforts of providing a family environment for youth to feel comfortable in.
Robinson wakes up early in the morning to welcome the children. She is then participating and working with them throughout the day to give them further guidance and support. She has taught the children about maritime life, the constellations and what it means to accomplish something.