Sitting in a boat, a youngster has hands on steering wheel sitting next to adult.

A youngster takes the helm at the Freedom Water’s event.

More than 800 people, from veterans and children with special needs, their families and volunteers, participated in this year’s Freedom Waters Foundation Weller Day Boating Outings weekend at Port Royale during the third weekend in September. That’s an increase of about 40 percent from last year’s inaugural event.

“The weather was perfect and we had many generous boat owners and volunteers turn out for the two-day event,” said Debra Frenkel, LCSW, executive director of Freedom Waters, based in Naples, Fla. “While we didn’t have as many veterans as we expected on Saturday, more than 600 people participated in Sunday’s boat rides and barbecue for children with disabilities and their families; that includes boat captains and crews, plus on-the-ground volunteers.”

The event, hosted by Port Royale Marina, gives veterans and children with disabilities and their families a chance to spend time boating, relaxing and enjoying the natural therapeutic effects of being on the water.

From 22-foot pontoons to large houseboats, the participants were treated to boat rides in the morning, lunch and entertainment in the afternoon.

“We couldn’t host this event without our big-hearted boat captains, crew and volunteers who give of their time to ensure that we can accommodate our guests,” Frenkel said. “Everyone kept telling us what a great event it was again this year, and that’s exactly why we do the weekend.”

Freedom Waters Foundation forms local committee for 2023

Frenkel announced that next year’s event will take place the third weekend in September. She is forming an organizing committee of volunteers from Lanier to assist with plans for 2023.

“The event has already grown so much that we want to involve more people from Lake Lanier to form a core committee to assist with logistics for next year,” she said. “Really, there are no limits to how many people we can reach to give them a chance to experience the fun of boating and the generosity of the community.”

For the past 16 years, Freedom Waters Foundation has provided on-the-water outings for veterans, people with disabilities, plus children and youth with disabilities/life threatening illnesses, youth at risk and their families in south Florida.

The program has expanded to provide therapeutic boat outings across south Florida, and into Georgia and Indiana.

If you’re interested in becoming part of the organizing committee for next year’s event, visit or call 239 263-2377.

Photos: by Debra Frenkel