April is National Volunteer Month, celebrating those who give of themselves by volunteering their time, energy, and skills to serving our communities and helping others. During this month and all year long, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation salutes the people and organizations who volunteer to support the cause of historic preservation.
Since 2004, a group of dedicated divers has donated countless hours to assist the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in documenting and preserving underwater archaeological sites. Members of the organization, Diving With a Purpose (DWP), one of ACHP’s Preserve America Stewards, have documented 16 shipwrecks and accumulated more than 15,000 volunteer hours since 2004, partnering with Biscayne National Park and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
In addition to the adult program, DWP started Youth Diving With a Purpose for young people ages 15 to 23. Almost 60 youth have participated in the last six years.
“Our commitment to the next generation of preservationists is what I’m most proud of,” said DWP founder Kenneth B. Stewart. “It’s our hope that these young people will pursue careers in preservation and continue to participate in the organization as adults.”
Stewart said the organization received a National Maritime Heritage Grant to fund this year’s intensive week-long training for youth and young adults, teaching the basics of underwater archaeology.
In addition to undertaking underwater archaeological work, DWP participants serve as public advocates for the protection of underwater archaeological resources. Members frequently go out into the community and speak about their preservation activities to civic organizations, youth groups, and professional organizations.
DWP received the ACHP Chairman’s Award for Achievement in Historic Preservation in 2015 for turning a diving hobby into a mission of fulfilling key stewardship provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act and at the same time, bringing more people, most importantly young people, into the ranks of active participation in historic preservation and helping America better understand its full, rich story.
DWP is supported by the National Association of Black Scuba Divers and has a special focus on the protection, documentation, and interpretation of African slave trade shipwrecks and the maritime history and culture of African Americans.
To learn more or get involved with DWP or its youth component, visit www.divingwithapurpose.org.
Preserve America Stewards recognizes programs that have demonstrated a successful use of volunteer time and commitment in order to help care for the nation’s historic heritage. To receive the designation, programs of organizations and agencies must provide volunteers with opportunities to contribute in direct and tangible ways to the preservation, protection, and promotion of historic properties; address an otherwise unfilled need in heritage preservation through the use of volunteer efforts; and, demonstrate innovative and creative use of volunteer assistance in areas such as youth involvement, volunteer training, public education, and public/private partnerships.