Our mission is to empower youth to succeed in work and life through woodworking and experiential learning.

Our history

Urban Boatbuilders was founded in 1995, when a group of community leaders realized young people were losing opportunities to develop hands-on skills and spend time outdoors. This lack of experiential learning only serves to widen gaps between youth who have access to these spaces and opportunities and those who don’t. Through wooden boatbuilding, we help bridge those gaps, allowing youth to develop problem-solving and social-emotional skills as they work toward their version of success.

Since 1995, Urban Boatbuilders has been a trusted member of the St. Paul/Minneapolis nonprofit community. We’ve served more than 8,000 youth and partnered with more than 90 organizations. And we’ve seen the positive impact of our work verified, again and again.

Our mission wouldn’t be possible without a devoted and passionate team of staff, volunteers, board members, and supporters. Learn more about the people who make Urban Boatbuilders possible by clicking here

Why boats?

Boatbuilding is magical – this hands on process allows our youth to channel their passion and energy into building something tangible and lasting that can also be used to access wild spaces. By encouraging young people to hone both their woodworking and leadership skills, they build self-confidence and social-emotional resilience while connecting with the natural world.

For more than 25 years, the types of boats and woodworking projects have evolved to fit the needs of our youth. One thing that hasn’t changed is the method in which youth are learning these critical, transferable life skills that lead to positive impacts. Today, youth are building confidence and skills through the construction of canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, skateboards, and more.

What we’ve done

Since our founding, we’ve purposefully pursued opportunities to expand our commitment to serving local youth. We now employ six full-time staff and hold a permanent workshop space in the University-Raymond District. We’ve built hundreds of high-quality, skin-on-frame canoes, many of which we’ve sold to members of the community to help support our mission. In 2019, one of our most successful years yet, our youth built 27 boats, 123 handmade paddles, and 61 longboards.

Our two signature programs—youth apprenticeships and community partnerships—have allowed us to reach more than 8,000 young people in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.

Apprenticeship Program

Our apprenticeship program offers paid positions as part of a cohort that works together to build two or three boats during the course of four months. There are two cohorts of 10-12 youth each that participate in our fall, spring, and winter sessions. We serve 50 youth annually in this immersive program that seeks to develop job readiness skills far beyond boatbuilding.

“Urban Boatbuilders is a great program. Not only does it help youth like me stay focused and busy, but it also teaches us the skills that we need to be successful throughout our lives.” – Shyanna H.

  • 87 percent of youth believe their time in the program has helped them think more clearly about the next steps they will take to be successful in the future.
  • 100 percent of youth improved their employability, including their ability to 1) stay focused on tasks, 2) receive and process constructive feedback, and 3) manage distractions.
  • 73 percent of youth have found employment upon graduation from the apprenticeship program.

Partnership Program

Our partnership program works directly with schools and community organizations and their leadership to tailor and develop an on-sight curriculum centered on boatbuilding. In other words, we bring the shop and all the supplies directly to the youth. The partnership program has served approximately 1,000 youth each year since the program was expanded in 2016.

“This hands-on learning allows my students to feel successful. They are successful, but they don’t necessarily understand that just by looking at the results of a math quiz. They have to feel it, and when they put their hands on the work, that allows them to interact with understanding their own growth.” Kent Miller, Parkway Montessori Middle School teacher

  • 100 percent of partners indicated that the program was successful in meeting their goals.
  • 100 percent of partners indicated that the project helped their students 1) experience tangible success, 2) believe in their ability to succeed, 3) build new or stronger relationships with their peers, and 4) redefine the types of relationships that are possible with adults.

Learn how to bring Urban Boatbuilders to your school

We’ve watched graduates from each program flourish in myriad ways: as college students, as skilled workers in various trades, even as returning employees at Urban Boatbuilders. Young people emerge from our programs bursting new confidence and capability, which they take back to their communities.

Here’s what some of our recent participants have to say about their experience at Urban Boatbuilders:

“Since starting at Urban Boatbuilders, I’ve had the chance to apply my ambition to something productive and something I’ve always had a passion for. This has helped me grow and learn more about myself than I thought it ever would.”

“I’ve been able to take responsibility for my actions and mistakes. I’ve learned to work in a group and how to be more independent in problem-solving. I’ve learned how to take a leadership role when needed and step back when it is not.”

Take a look at recent media featuring Urban Boatbuilders:

WCCO – Twin Cities Teens Launch Projects Built Through Urban Boatbuilders Apprenticeship

FOX 9 – Teens chart a new course with Urban Boat Builders

Who we’ve served

“Since starting at Urban Boatbuilders, I’ve had the chance to apply my ambition to something productive and something I’ve always had a passion for. This has helped me grow and learn more about myself than I thought it ever would.”

“I’ve been able to take responsibility for actions and mistakes. I’ve learned to work in a group and how to be more independent in problem-solving. I’ve learned how to take a leadership role when needed and step back when it is not.”

Let’s Connect

Interested in our programs, boats, volunteering, or supporting youth in other creative ways?

Reach out today!