Four adults and three children sitting on a boat docked at a Lake Lanier marina..

The Hernandez family with their three children rode with the pontoon owners Steve and Roseann LaVoy on Sunday.

In the middle of October, area veterans and children with special needs and their families came together at Port Royale for the Annual Freedom Waters Foundation Weller Day of Boating Outings. Since the Lake Lanier event was created in 2021, it has brought together hundreds of people to provide a day on the lake to relax and enjoy the water.

Crisp autumn weather on both days greeted guests and volunteers.

“Once again, the event was so positive for everyone involved,” said Debra Frenkel, LCSW, executive director of Freedom Waters Foundation, based in Naples, Florida. “Between our boat rides and our barbecue lunches, we’ve heard nothing but praise and thanks from the participants.”

Here’s what one family said about the day: “I can go on and on about what a great job the organization is doing in giving back to veterans and their families. The highlight of our outing was being paired with the BEST, Capt. Rod and Capt. Mike,” they posted on Facebook. “We were greeted with refreshments, kind smiles, great conversations and knowledge about the surrounding waterfront. My 5-star best was seeing Marty’s family house and the dock from ‘Ozark.’ ”

5 adults standing together on a boat dock.

Captain Charlie Sheets, center, took out the Sharpe and Thompson families on the day for veteran boat rides.

For the past 17 years, Freedom Waters Foundation has provided on-the-water outings for veterans, people with disabilities, children and youth with disabilities/life-threatening illnesses, youth at risk and their families in South Florida.

“Our purpose is to give people a chance to go boating and enjoy the lake,” she said. “Many of our veterans and children with special needs, along with their families, really don’t have many chances to simply be together in such a wonderful setting. That’s why we do this event each year.”


A special needs girl with family and skipper sitting in a boat.

The Litterilla family enjoyed lake time with skipper Erick Moore on his pontoon boat.

Across the two-day event, nearly 200 veterans, children with special needs and their families took boat rides provided by 55 boats and captains who volunteered their time. In all, 75 families took part with support from 120 volunteers.

“I’m excited to say that we have a solid group of returning volunteers, but we always have room for more people to volunteer and provide their boats,” she said. “We couldn’t offer the Weller Day of Boating Outings here at Lake Lanier without our volunteers and also our amazing sponsors – Port Royale Marina, Yamaha. And Seniors Helping Seniors.”

If you’re interested in becoming part of the organizing committee at Port Royale Marina for the 2024 event, visit, email or call 239 263-2377.

Photos: courtesy Freedom Waters Foundation