man and young boy sitting together on boat on Lake Lanier

A tender moment during the Freedom event on Lanier

On the final weekend of September, the Freedom Waters Foundation brought together more than 450 veterans, youngsters with life-threatening illnesses/special needs and their families, plus boaters and volunteers to experience Lake Lanier.

“As our first-ever event at Port Royale Marina, we are overwhelmed by the participation by the families and volunteers alike,” said Debby Frenkel, executive director of the Naples, Florida-based non-profit. “It far exceeded our expectations and we are so thrilled that we will be back at Lake Lanier and Port Royale again next year for our second annual event.”

The two-day event focused on taking veterans and their families out for boat rides on the lake on Friday; Saturday’s event hosted children with life-threatening illnesses/special needs and their families. Each day, after the morning boat rides, participants and volunteers were treated to a barbecue lunch at Port Royale Marina cooked by Where the BBQ.

“We were thrilled with the number of people from the community who volunteered, either bringing and captaining their boats or by supporting our land-based activities,” Frenkel said. “And now that we have done this event, more people – both participants and volunteers – will know about us and support us next year.”

Several people provided rides on their signature boats. Jim Payne brought his 35-foot Fountain Executioner “Khaleesi,” equipped with two 496HOs at 425 horsepower each. David Thayer gave rides in his classic Packard. Taylor and Katie Grimsley provided outings on their, 30-foot Sea Queen “Miracle” built by Vic Franck in 1928.

The event raised through sponsorships totaled $37,500 to support the work of the Freedom Waters Foundation on Lake Lanier.

Participants and volunteers thanked the organizers: “Thank you so much for all you and your organization did on behalf of my comrades and their families,” said one veteran. “It was a much-needed break for all to enjoy and recharge our souls and knowing that others care enough to put forth efforts and action to show their gratitude for those that did serve.”

“We were matched with a really great couple and the young veteran really wanted to learn more about boating and fishing,” said volunteer boat owner Mark Mason. “I would love to teach him and his wife and we know we have some new friends. Thank you for doing all that you do to make this happen.”

Lekotek of Georgia connected children with disabilities and their families to the Freedom Waters Foundation’s activity.

“This was the best-ever event in our 38-year history,” said Helene Prokesch, who founded Lekotek and serves as its executive director. “I was delighted to see so many of our kids with physical disabilities participating and benefiting from the event. This is truly what it’s all about.”

Frenkel said that plans are already in the works for an event at Port Royale and Lanier in 2022.

“So many of our participants had never been on a boat before,” Frenkel said. “You could just see how much they enjoyed the day from all the smiles and hugs taking place. It was simply amazing.”

Major sponsors included Port Royale Marina, Yamaha Waverunners and Boats, R. Barga Insurance and Singleton Marine Group.

For more information about the sponsoring organization, visit