Giving Back and Fulfilling Dreams
Photos by Steve Edelstein and the Harbor School Students
When asked what drew them to the water, many divers will attest that they had some sort of calling towards it, or were inspired by someone who did. Those who are able to answer the call because they have the time and money to explore their desires are lucky. But what about those who feel that diving may be out of reach? And what if they are the next generation of divers?
The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School in Brooklyn is a public high school that seeks to address this issue. Located in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, their focus is to reconnect students to their water bodies through environmental and nautical education. They also have a program to train and educate future divers who would otherwise not have the exposure to diving or the means to sustain it. Many of these students did not know how to swim and some never had the opportunity to leave their neighborhood. Through this program they are now excellent swimmers and have diving skills approaching professional levels.
What began as an after school scuba club has taken off as part of the school's curriculum, led by history teacher Shaun Strobel. Now it is shaping the lives and career goals of young urban adults. The school manages to maintain the program through fundraisers, donations, and volunteers both in and out of the diving community.
A member of the NYC Sea Gypsies dive club donated a specially corrected mask, to a student that has an ocular degenerative disease and is legally blind. The mask makes his diving more enjoyable. He doesn't like to talk about the disease much, since it will probably disqualify him from joining the Navy. Yet he has a positive outlook and is an extremely good diver. During the photography class he was able to comprehend everything, and quickly developed new photo skills.
The school holds a major fundraiser at the New York Yacht Club each year in March. Tickets go for around $150.00. Shaun also donates his time on weekends to teach scuba and/or first aid CPR to community members using the school's gear. The Harbor School scuba students assist him with these classes. The community members taking these courses donate $200 each. This money is used to help fund trips for the class.
The class participates in many diving activities, away from the school. During warmer months the class goes diving at Dutch Springs, a quarry in Pennsylvania. They also dive at Beach 8th Street, a popular beach dive in Far Rockaway, Queens. Moreover, they dive local wrecks in the Brooklyn/New York area with Captain Bob Hayes on his dive boat The Karen II, which docks in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The more experienced divers work on an ongoing project to reintroduce oyster reefs to the Bay Ridge Flats (the only part of the NYC harbor that has never been dredged). This gives the students great experience in fast moving low visibility water.
In 2008 the class did their first trip to the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. They stayed at the Island School. This school has an environmental and outdoor based curriculum, so they have boats and all the other gear the students need. This trip is now an annual event.
B&H's own Larry Cohen, an underwater products specialist and accomplished underwater photographer, recently conducted an underwater photography course to prepare the students for the annual diving trip to the Bahamas. The trip took place and was a huge success. Larry also arranged for the donation of cameras to the program.
When interviewed before the trip, students were elated about the prospect of taking cameras with them on their trip to the Caribbean. Mr. Cohen did not disappoint the students. He arranged for them to use equipment manufactured by Olympus and Sea & Sea.
For the trip Olympus donated an FE-360 camera (a comparable model is the Olympus FE-3010), housing, and, UFL-1 strobe set-up. This simple camera equipment is easy to use but allowed the students to take interesting photos of their trip and start to learn the basics of underwater photography.
Sea & Sea donated three DX-1G (a comparable model is the DX-2G) cameras. Mr. Cohen lent the students two Olympus UFL-1 strobes with Fantasea arms and fiber optic cables to go with the cameras. This setup is a little more advanced and allowed the students to learn manual camera controls.
The course Larry gave consisted of time in the classroom and school pool. The students were fascinated with the underwater images but also were very interested in the technical aspects of Mr. Cohen's talk. Having only an hour, he did the Readers Digest version, but this opened up a new world to these young adults.
Students had an opportunity to explore the various settings on different camera models both in and out of their respective housings. In the pool, they practiced manipulating the controls while maintaining proper buoyancy- a must for any underwater photographer. Larry went over lighting techniques and practical camera operation.
The photography course offered by Mr. Cohen enhanced an already well-rounded diving foundation offered by Harbor School. By sharing his expertise, he inspired many students at the same time they were inspiring him. Mr. Cohen got as much out of the experience as the kids did. To pass on his passion for underwater photography along with the sense of wonder, awe and discovery to this new generation made things come full circle for him.
Many high schoolers who had been diving for about a year or more were eager and excited to add the element of photography into their dives. Thanks to the generous donations of funds, equipment and the time of experienced divers, these students found their calling. One student described the feeling of being underwater as supernatural. "Besides," he exclaimed, "have you ever felt you were close to God? That's what it feels like to dive".
Erin Boyajian is a writer, traveler, diver and educator who loves to write about her experiences. She has traveled around the world including her recent trip to New Zealand where she scuba dived, hiked, explored glaciers and did a 134m bungee jump. She is the Literary Director of Liquid Images UW. She has worked on projects with the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL and with the record breaking free diver Pipin. Erin is also on the Executive Committee of Oceanblue Divers, and the Social Director of the NYC Sea Gypsies.
Stephen Edelstein is a photographer and graphic designer, who shoots both underwater and topside. His work can be seen at the Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, NY, as well as on several web sites and publications. He is the editor/graphic designer as well as writer of the Sea Breeze, the journal of the NYC Sea Gypsies dive club, and an organizer of monthly meetings of the NY Underwater Photo Society. An aficionado of classic British cars, he was recognized as Man of the Year for his work as editor of the Eastern NY MGA car club newsletter. These days, Stephen can often be sighted - lost - driving through the streets of Brooklyn in his Olde-English white MGA coupe, or scuba diving off the coast of New York, New Jersey, or other exotic locations.
Larry Cohen has worked as a studio and location photographer since the late 70's. His clients included Baccarat Crystal, Fuji, Kodak, Sony, General Electric, Time Warner and others. His underwater photos have appeared in such publications as Sport Diver, Immersed Magazine, Sub Aqua Journal, Alert Diver and Northeast Dive News. His photos have also appeared in books such as National Audubon Society Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes. In order to extend bottom time and to get closer to marine life he now dives with a Closed Circuit Rebreather. Larry is a founding member of the New York Underwater Photo Society. He is the current president of The NYC Sea Gypsies dive club and is on the committee of Oceanblue Divers dive club in Manhattan. At B&H Photo, Larry is a technical writer.
Visit Larry's site at www.liquidimagesuw.com