At ADEC, the process of building the boat for the United Way Cardboard Boat race is almost as much fun as racing it.

At the beginning of June, clients in the day program at Bristol start pestering their director, Don Wierenga about getting started. “We had a lot more initiative than I’ve ever seen with clients this year,” Don said. “They asked more often, ‘When are we going to work on it?’ And they helped out a lot more.”

ADEC is the reigning champion of the Cardboard Boat Race, the kickoff to the United Way Annual Campaign. This year’s event launches at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, at the pond at LaSalle Bristol on C.R. 17. Spectators and cheerleaders are welcome; the race is free and open to the public.

The Boat

Mollie and Scotty

Mollie and Scotty, clients at ADEC’s day services site in Bristol, helped build the boat.

The first step for the ADEC boat builders is picking a theme. This year, since ADEC is going for its fourth consecutive win on Aug. 28, and the Marvel Comic superhero movie Fantastic Four opened in theaters on Aug. 7, choosing the theme was easy – Fant4stic Four. The superhero theme worked in 2013 with a batman boat, so why not go for it again?

Designs for the Fantastiboat begin taking shape on paper, and then construction starts. Clients and staff work together to glue the cardboard in place, hold it until it sticks and then brush on paint and polyurethane to finish it off.

Three clients made the boat their chief project. Erwin set up his desk in the workroom to supervise construction.

“He’d watch me to make sure I was doing it right,” said Don. “I’d see him watching me and making some notes on his legal pad.”

Paper designs for web

Ideas for the boat are pinned to the wall for inspiration.

Scotty cleaned up after the work crew, sweeping up debris and wiping off table surfaces. Ricky helped glue and paint, using both hands to hold seams in place while the glue set.

Staff artists Danielle Howard and Diana Caraballo also got involved, painting a space scene on the bow of the boat and the Fantastic Four characters on the sides.



The ADEC Advantage

“We have an advantage as an agency when it comes to cardboard boat races,” said Don. “We get such little, in the form of resources, we always have to figure out, ‘How do we get the most from what we’ve been given?’”

The only resources the teams are given for their boats are cardboard, liquid nails, paint and polyurethane.

“It’s really no different than what we do with our other resources,” Don said. “Whatever we’re given, we’ll make the most out of it. We’ll figure out how we can make the best boat out of it.”

The Crew


Aleigha Miller


Pam Pedersen








Returning this year for her fifth cardboard boat race is Aleigha Miller, and for her third, Pam Pedersen.

These two really know how to paddle, and when they paddle together, they stay in perfect sync with each other, synchronized paddling at its best. Aleigha and Pam crewed two of ADEC’s winning boats together, Greased Lightening in 2012 and Batman in 2013.

They also work together at ADEC’s Bristol Day Services site, providing direct support to the men and women who receive services there.

Article by Nancy Miller/Mission Advancement Manager

Photos by Rod Tackett/Communications Specialist