Six years ago, Marina del Rey boater Sherry Barone began a program that blended her involvement with two of her passions ñ boating and the Special Olympics.

Realizing the educational virtues that are inherent in recreational boating, Barone designed a program that could benefit children with special needs.

She worked with local yacht clubs and sponsors to raise funds and procure boats and facilities so the kids could have the experience that she envisioned.

Barone felt that the world of boating was the perfect environment to teach kids valuable life lessons in a manner that would be enjoyable for all involved.

“Most of the time is spent on the water stressing safety, teaming, good seamanship and positive attitude,” Barone said of the project. “Participation, activity and fun are the key ingredients in our program.”

However, using the marine environment to educate and enlighten these children was only part of the concept.

She also implemented the idea of blending able-bodied kids with Special Olympics athletes, making the Jr. Shipmates unlike any other special education program around.

“Our program is a unique opportunity for kids both able-bodied and Westside Special Olympics athletes to be paired and learn the basics in sailing as well as teamwork from our sailing instructors,” Barone said. “Sailing requires strict discipline, sportsmanship, responsibility, leadership, strategic thinking, and teamwork.

“The Jr. Shipmate Program teaches kids to work together and break barriers. It teaches them how to sail and learn proper seamanship; competitive sailing strategy; healthy competition; importance of self-worth and accomplishment; and total commitment to understanding teamwork.”

Barone has realized through the years that the program, while designed to assist primarily the children with special needs, is also educational for anyone who gets involved.

“I think everyone has life challenges and we’re all richer for doing this.”