Full Sails and Open Hearts: Midwest Businessman Launches Special Sailing Program for Cognitively Impaired

INDIANAPOLIS, April 25 /PRNewswire/ — A lifelong love of sailing coupled with a driving desire to help the less fortunate has led an Indianapolis man to set out on what will eventually become an around-the-world journey of hope and education for children of all nationalities.

George Saidah, a successful entrepreneur and software engineer, is the founder and executive director of Heart of Sailing, a nonprofit foundation whose major function is to bring a slice of the seafaring world to children with cognitive disorders. His first voyage will be this fall and will begin what Saidah hopes will become a lifetime of exposing children to possibilities they otherwise would not have experienced.

“I love sailing, and this is a dream I have always wanted to accomplish,” Saidah said of the program. He noted that while there are numerous opportunities for children in various other areas, “There is nothing for kids with cognitive impairments in the sailing arena.”

With the Heart of Sailing program, Saidah will travel from port to port in the United States, picking up between eight to 12 children and their caregivers and taking them on daylong sailing excursions. But, he adds, the trips won’t be simple pleasure rides.

“They will learn [to the best of their ability] how to sail,” he said. “They will help sail the boat. They are the crew.”

He added that passengers will receive safety lessons and training in how to tie nautical knots, and will be given a book about their adventure. They all will even receive their very own Captain’s cap – making them official “sailors.” All passengers will be outfitted with lifejackets, and the boat is fully equipped with all necessary safety equipment.

Amber Burton Small, who acts as Saidah’s sailing partner in the adventure, notes that the program will serve as a kind of therapy for the children. “It has been proven that there are therapeutic benefits of sensory experiences,” Small, the Heart of Sailing program director, said. “It’s a kind of cognitive therapy.”

After spending time along America’s coastlines, Saidah’s 49-foot catamaran will then set sail for the rest of the world – literally searching for ports to establish regional programs to help children learn about the joys of sailing. That journey will take approximately five years. “But during that time, we plan to set up regional programs everywhere we go,” Saidah said.

The American program is actually an offshoot of a very successful sailing initiative in France – Au Coeur Des Voiles (which translates to “the heart of sailing”). In the French program, which began in 2001, children are taken to a single port, where they board a 33-foot sailboat for day-trips.

“A friend of mine started this program in France,” Saidah said. “But he stays in one port, and the children have to come to him. I want to set up many programs in many ports so we can come to the children.”

Saidah noted that the founder of the European Heart of Sailing program acts as a technical adviser for the American endeavor.

Heart of Sailing is currently raising funds to help kick the program off and launch the boat – which will be delivered from its manufacturer in Les Sables D’Olonne, France, late this summer or in the early fall.

As part of the sailing experience for children of the world, Saidah is also publishing a children’s book, which each passenger will receive upon boarding. During the vessel’s globe-trotting trek, Saidah will also pen a book for adults, and Small will write a series of children’s books about the trip from the perspective of their two cats, who will be full-time crew.

For more information on the Heart of Sailing program or to inquire about donations and sponsorship opportunities, log-on to http://www.heartofsailing.org/.

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