Sailing to Success with LifeSail

March 16, 2018

A Note from CCF: We are highlighting this story because it’s a great example of the many ways we can make a difference in our local communities. Here at CCF, we’d like to hear your stories about the ways you are enriching the lives of others. We applaud the volunteerism and the enthusiasm this associate has his chosen cause, and encourage others to do the same.


Sometimes all it takes to change someone’s life, says Carrington Real Estate Services Realtor Felipe Alvarez, is for one person to say, “You matter.” Felipe, based in Irvine, CA, says he’s supported many charities over the past decade, including some in Peru and in the Amazon jungle, but an organization closer to home, LifeSail, has reignited his commitment to community service and to proving to kids with a background like his that they matter.

Founded in 2003 by Felipe’s friend, longtime sailing instructor Matt Schulz (pictured from left immediately below are Felipe and Matt), LifeSail is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching at-risk Southern California youth how to build boats and sail them. Working on local lakes and out of the posh marinas in Newport Beach and Marina Del Rey, LifeSail so far has helped more than 6,000 LA County young people navigate the often-choppy waters of growing up in communities where sailing isn’t a typical activity.

Through its weekend and summer programs, LifeSail’s mission includes building personal confidence and encouraging higher long-term life goals. In February, LifeSail’s fundraising gala, which Felipe attended, featured Laura Dekker, who at age 16 circumnavigated the globe solo.

“These kids from East LA come from the same background I did – those most likely not to succeed,” says Felipe. “They have no business sailing. They have no business being in Marina Del Rey or Newport Beach. But LifeSail takes these kids first to their local pond, like in MacArthur or Echo Park, and teaches them how to sail a small boat by themselves. They go on from there. All the sailing coaches are volunteers. The kids are being reached, they’re learning life skills, and they’re now dreaming of sailing the world. What this organization is doing is changing lives dramatically.”

Felipe’s own journey to success was anything but smooth sailing. When his family – father, mother, and eight children – moved from Mexico to Southern California, young Felipe was, by his own description, a “flunk-out student who would probably flunk out of life.”

“My dad was a farm worker who had to start from scratch,” Felipe recalls. “I went to public school and never did homework. I was flunking everything. My mother worked in a Catholic school cafeteria and, out of pity, they took me in as a student. The first day, the nuns said, `Where’s your homework?’ I said I didn’t do homework, so they told me to come after school and they’d do it with me. They did that for two years. I thought I’d outsmarted them when I started doing it all myself, but they’d made me develop learning skills.”

He finished high school at the top of his class, with scholarship offers from the Ivy League. He chose University of Southern California. Looking back at those dedicated nuns who wouldn’t let him slide, Felipe says, made him realize the effect one can have by reaching out to those who don’t believe in themselves.

That’s what he says he sees in the young people who are learning to sail. He doesn’t own a boat (yet), but Felipe says his support of LifeSail will continue, on and off the water. “Somebody made a difference in my life, so I’ll never stop making a difference in someone else’s. It works and it’s true. I know it is because I’m living it.”