Amanda Kraus remembers the walk she used to take each day to the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Big Apple. Her daily route took her by Washington Square Park and a scene that made a lasting impression on a little girl.
“I was struck by the how many homeless people lived in Washington Square Park. How could so much poverty exist when we had a roof over our heads and a good school to attend and food to eat?”
Her sense that all wasn’t right in the world was nurtured in class where the focus, she says, went beyond reading, writing and math.
“The school was really invested in helping us become good human beings who thought about the world and other people's needs.”
Later, in high school in the Hamptons, she couldn’t help but notice again the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in her neighborhood.
“This never sat well with me.”
The images of inequality that Amanda had observed growing up and coming of age, finally came into focus during graduate school in Boston, when she volunteered to coach rowing to girls from under-resourced communities.
“Many of the girls I worked with just needed someone in their lives to spend time with them, to push them to do things they didn't think they were capable of; someone who believed in them, helped them with homework, and remembered their names and the details of their lives.”
It was an experience that set Amanda’s course for the future.
“It started with an idea and figuring out how to make it come true.”
Amanda decided she would use rowing and the values it instills – tenacity, focus, teamwork and confidence -- to give others what it takes to succeed in life. So, in 2002, with one borrowed boat and eight teenage would-be rowers, she founded Row New York, pairing competitive rowing with rigorous academic support.
“There wasn’t a day that went by during that first year that I didn’t think I was making a mistake or that I would fail.”
But her years of college rowing prepared her to keep pushing forward and, today, Row New York’s core, year-round program prepares middle school and high school at-risk girls and boys for success both on and off the water.
Five days a week, the students train with experienced athletic coaches who teach them to swim and row; three days a week they work with expert academic tutors who provide support with homework, math, reading, writing, as well as
Regents and SAT preparation. Row New York tracks students’ progress and makes sure that each student meets college reading standards.
“It’s great to have a really strong kid breaking records on the rowing machine or loving rowing, but if she or he isn’t doing well in school, than we’re really not doing enough in my opinion.”
100% of Row New York graduates go on to higher learning, most on scholarship. And virtually all student-athletes report an improved lifestyle and newfound pride and purpose.
From one boat and a simple idea, Row New York has grown to serve 230 middle and high school students in its year-round intensive program, and more than 2,200 participants across all programs, including PE classes in NYC public middle schools, summer camps, para-rowing for athletes with physical and/or cognitive disabilities, and programs for adults.
It has been a rewarding ride for Amanda who believes that rowing is a game changer for disadvantaged teenagers, giving them a powerful foundation on which to build future successes.
“I don’t think the access to the sport should be limited to kids who come from families who can afford to send them to schools with rowing.
I believe in Row New York’s ability to help these kids become the people they want to become.”
Amanda has an MA in Education from Harvard and a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she was captain of the women’s crew team, a member of the DII National Championship boat, and a member of the Commonwealth Honors College.
You can help support Row New York by doing some of your holiday shopping at Amazon. Details at rownewyork.org.
And get into the Christmas spirit of giving at the Jingle Mingle on December 12th.
Your gift can help keep Row New York afloat.