Tacoma Boat Builders creates transformational opportunities for marginalized and underserved youth through positive mentorship, woodworking, and traditional wooden boat building. TBB pairs youth with craftspeople, together they create objects of functional beauty.
We were formed in response to a sea change in thinking about the practice of incarcerating youth in our community. Not only is it ineffective, it has very high costs to our entire society, and especially for youth and families who get caught up in the system. Nation-wide there is a growing recognition of the negative impacts and systemic inequities inherent in systems of juvenile justice. Research shows that community-based intervention and support are more effective in achieving better outcomes including positive changes in behavior, completion of education, and reduced levels of violence. Pierce County is a leader in juvenile justice reform, and TBB is a part of that change for the good.
The boat shop programs started as an alternative to incarceration. Now we are part of a larger effort to short circuit the school to prison pipeline by offering a place for youth in need of a safe place to learn and grow in different ways. The need for community-based support and intervention is imperative and we are here to answer that call.
Tacoma Boat Builders began as an idea in 2012. A few dedicated boat builders and sailors of the South Puget Sound committed themselves to share their passion for the unique experience of building and sailing wooden boats with our community’s underserved youth. The founding group reached out to the Pierce County Juvenile Court and found that there was a need for this kind of opportunity. By May of 2014, Tacoma Boat Builders had welcomed its first cohort of six young people and a handful of volunteers to the shop and begun the process of becoming the organization it is today.
Since then, we have grown in every way. As the courts have continued to shift the way the juvenile justice system works with youth, we have responded by offering more programming, learning more about the needs of the youth we serve and increasing both our staff and volunteer populations. Over time we’ve placed more emphasis on building strong relationships between mentors and youth. As the number of youth served increases, the number of volunteers has grown with it. And thanks to the continuing support of the larger community, we have been able to grow to meet the increasing demand for what TBB has to offer. We continue to work with the Pierce County Juvenile Court, but have leaned into our community searching for youth in need through various youth-serving agencies as well as schools and other community organizations.
Boatwright and business owner, Paul Birkey is the founder of Tacoma Boat Builders. He is known for pulling people together and then turning them loose to do their best work. When asked what inspired him to start TBB he simply said he recognized a need in the community and got to work. Our great fortune as an organization is that Paul is a believer in building community, nurturing open communication, leading with honesty and treating everyone with respect. These form the basis of our core values as an organization. Of course, Paul is not one to rest on his laurels, he continues to act as a mentor and serves on our Board of Directors always alert to the need to remain agile and open to the emerging needs of our community. He will always have our gratitude.
Volunteer mentors are paired one-on-one with marginalized youth, sharing their talents, craft, and knowledge.
Since 2014, youth experienced hands-on learning through craftsmanship.
When you add it all up, in 2022 our amazing volunteers gave not just hours but days of time working with youth.
Board of Directors
Janece Levien, M.Ed, Director of Community Programs, Community Foundation of South Puget Sound
Ken Lazarus, Engineer (retired), Blue Origin
Paul Birkey, Owner & Founder of Belina Interiors, Journeyman Shipwright.
Nicole Remy, Special Services System Support Specialist, Chief Leschi Schools