Wendy Gillett, Executive Director and Coach of Summer Rowing Camp, Lake Casita’s Rowing Association
As you can see in the photo, Wendy takes her work seriously because she has so much passion for the people that row at Lake Casitas. She actively engages with all middle and high schools in the Ojai Valley to ensure a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse Summer Rowing Camp. She works year-round with her husband, Eric Gillett (it was love at first sight when they met at age 18), who is a former US National Rowing Team rower. They started Lake Casita’s Rowing Association 15 years ago and haven’t stopped rowing. She says, “We’re exhausted but happy.” They have about 150 members, including adult teams, kid’s teams, and an adaptive team (pictured in the middle of the photo above is Jason Johnson, and to the right is Eric Gillett) and eight coaches on staff plus two doing adaptative teams. Wendy is unbiased when saying, “We have the best kids. You’d love them. And I’m sometimes taken aback by how nice they can be to each other.”
Lake Casita’s rowing club is diverse in reaching out to underserved communities and as a program overall. Wendy is so proud since their program was chosen as one of 25 nationwide clubs to be a STEM. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s a philosophy of education that encourages curiosity and embraces teaching content and skills in a way that resembles real life. Rowing is one of those experiences. The program is taught through an after-school program at DATA Middle School, where there were two field trips to Lake Casita to teach the kids all about rowing.
Another low-key but essential part of the program is food. They discovered that nutrition is a barrier. Wendy explains, “For many kids, even kids from an area where you wouldn’t expect it – maybe they have two working parents that just don’t have time to shop. So, we provide snacks twice a week and take apple or peanut butter packets to go with them. We encourage them to take it home to their siblings and put it in their bag for later.”
She’s also partnered with the YMCA to teach swimming. Another area she’s most proud of is being approved for PE credits for Ojai Unified School District. That means their rowing team will get PE class credits from their school.
OWF members can experience the thrill of rowing, even vicariously, by attending one of their open houses. You can even try rowing for free. Members can experience Wendy’s passion for her sport and, more importantly, the care and feeding of her “kids.” You will never think of rowing as just a sport again. It is a comprehensive program where our youth can learn responsibility, teamwork, decision making, and accountability.