New fleet of dragon boats launched after last year’s flood

The North Light Community Center held its annual potluck dinner at the Manayunk Brewery on Wednesday night to commemorate 75 years of service to the Manayunk community, but the focus was hardly on just this milestone.

“This year, we’re celebrating creative partnerships and how they’ve sustained us from 1936 to modern days,” Irene Madrak, executive director of North Light, said.

The event was originally scheduled for June 1, but due to an electricity blackout, it was rescheduled to Wednesday.

“The goal is also to mix and mingle. We have a small staff—five full time and up to 15 part time,” Madrak said. “Last year we logged over 8,600 volunteer hours, so this is an opportunity for people to say ‘oh, that’s the art specialist you were talking about,’ or ‘that’s the tutor.'”

Over 60 people, including parents, volunteers and young people involved with the community center, crowded onto the Manayunk Brewery’s outdoor deck free of charge to enjoy the warm summer air, socialize and bite into each other’s homemade dishes.

In attendance was Mike Blundetto, head coach of the Manayunk Dragon Boat Racing Team, one of the more recent “strategic partners” of the North Light Community Center. Earlier in the afternoon the dragon boat team launched its recently purchased dragon boats with young people involved with the community center at the helm, a symbol of the new partnership.

“Every group is supporting one another and helping each other go forward as opposed to one group struggling to get something done,” Blundetto said. Last year, the Dragon Boat team lost their fleet to 35-foot flood waters, and the North Light Community Center was one of the local groups which supported the team’s rebuilding efforts.

“They stepped up when we lost our boats and came to our fundraiser,” Blundetto said. He said that the dragon boat team aims to become more involved with the community center in the future, and that he intends to begin a teen boating program in the coming months.

“Think about these strategic partnerships in terms of a dragon boat—one person on a boat is only going to go so far,” Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Center and a long-time board member of the North Light Community Center, said.

“Two people on a boat are not going to go in circles, they will go in a direction. Twelve people on a boat are going to go faster and smoother,” Lipton said. “That’s a strategic partnership, and that’s what all of these groups act like. All of these are part of the bigger picture making this part of [Northwest] Philadelphia more livable.”

Several students involved in one of North Light’s initiatives to make the Manayunk area “more livable,” the Urban Sustainability Leadership Academy (USLA), were honored at the pot luck. USLA is a year-round, youth-led urban farming project organized by Billy Eisenberg, North Light’s director of Education and teen services.

“We really try to get the youth involved as much as possible in the community,” Eisenberg said, noting that many of the organic crops grown by USLA are sold at local supermarkets. “I think that it was really a learning experience for a lot of kids—they could see the plants grow from seeds to larger plants”

Those at the potluck were invited to try their hand at paddling in a dragon boat, and Blundetto guided about 20 brave volunteers down the Schuylkill River and back to the Manayunk Brewery’s deck on one of the dragon boat team’s new boats.

“The takeaway is that we’re all part of this community and it’s a really rich and vibrant community,” Lipton said. “This event reaffirms a commitment between volunteers and staff and realizes how many people depend on this organization, and how many lives are changed by this organization.”

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