The Long Island Sound has a special place in Justin Smith's heart: The 12-year-old South Woods Middle School student says he enjoys sailing on the Sound as a member of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club racing team during the summer, and in the Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay this fall.
"I love having the wind in my face," he said.
For all the enjoyment the Long Island Sound has given him, Justin has found a way to give back: in a few weeks, he will sail from Stamford, Conn., to Oyster Bay on a seven-mile solo trip for a good cause. As his bar mitzvah project, Justin is raising money – so far more than $1,500 from dozens of donors – in support of a University of Connecticut bioextraction project that will clean up the Bronx River, one of the rivers that feeds the Long Island Sound. In this bioextraction project, seaweed and ribbed mussels will be used to filter pollution from the water.
"I wanted to do a project that would help the environment," Justin said. "I felt that this was the best fit."
He has targeted Oct. 20 for his trip, which is dependent upon good sailing conditions. While he will sail alone in his 8-foot Optimist sailboat, there will be a chase boat following behind – where his father, Brian, will likely be sitting for the duration of the trip.
"He's on the water all summer long, so he has an appreciation for it," Brian said. "I'm excited for him and I'm extremely proud of him."
On Monday, a crowd gathered at the Childs Mansion in Old Field to celebrate the announcement of more than $900,000 in public and private grants to New York-based organizations in support of projects that will clean and protect the various parts of the Long Island Sound. David O'Neill, director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's eastern partnership office, highlighted Justin's project. Justin stood as everyone applauded his work. Later, he even got to meet Congressman Tim Bishop.
"Justin has adopted the Long Island Sound as a key community objective for him personally," O'Neill said. "... He's doing this because he cares about the Sound, he cares about his own community, and he's also learning a great deal about what makes the Sound so special from an ecological perspective."
Is Justin afraid to sail such a distance on his own?
"No, I'm very prepared," he said. "I know I'll do great."
Visit Justin's Facebook page to follow his progress. If you're interested in contributing, donations by check can be made out to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and mailed to Justin at P.O. Box 176, Locust Valley, NY 11560.