During a local chowder festival six years ago, Keturah Hurst met a young man representing his mother’s restaurant in the contest. He was kind and enthusiastic, full of energy and beaming with hope. He enjoyed the feeling of being part of the community, the feeling of being accepted. His name is Paul Drum and though Down syndrome is part of his identity, the 33-year-old has made it his life’s mission for everyone, regardless of status, race, or creed, to having that same feeling of inclusion.
“Paul relayed all of these stories to me,” Hurst said, who noted Drum worked at his mother, Sharon Sailor’s, restaurant DoLittle’s in Mattituck and then at Front Street Station in Greenport. “He felt important. I thought, how insightful for such an interesting kid. He said he had a purpose, he liked having a purpose. Paul has fun knowing that regardless of who someone is they can contribute to the community.”
Hurst shared Drum’s story with her friend at the East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation in Greenport, Arlene Klein. Klein had been working to establish a children’s program at the museum and the opportunity now presented itself to create something around Drum’s idea and thought that anyone can change the world. A pancake breakfast fundraiser was established to take place during the annual Maritime Festival, the proceeds of which would support the new Paul Drum Nautical Education Program. It was a success and evolved over the next four years as a staple at the museum.
Earlier this summer, the program evolved and separated from the museum to become its own 501(c)3 nonprofit. Led by board members Klein, Hurst, Sailor, and Morgant Fiedler and now known as the Paul Drum Life Experience Project, the summer program expanded to create diverse opportunities for children in the community.
“We wanted to introduce topics and subject matter to children that they normally wouldn’t have the chance to investigate or be exposed to in their everyday life,” Klein said. “It’s a new opportunity for them. Maybe they could find a new hobby or explore a new interest. That’s why it’s called life experience. It’s very diverse.”
Over the course of eight weeks in the summer, children ages seven to 12 can participate in weekly classes covering a range of topics such as journalism, organic gardening, police work, science, and more led by industry professionals. Most classes are held at Front Street Station while others take place at various local businesses. Citing the turn public education has taken to become more about passing exams, Hurst and Klein said they feel it is important for children to know who is running their community.
During a visit to KK’s The Farm in Southold, the children planted pumpkin seeds in a small pot to take home. They received official reporter’s notebooks after a journalism course with communications major Jessinta Smith. Southold Town historian Amy Folk taught children about genealogy, and they were sent home with blank family trees to fill out. Klein says this opens up the discussion for kids to talk to their parents and learn more about their roots.
“Our children are very diverse,” Klein shares. “Whether it’s wealth, family life, different ethnic groups, summer people and locals, it’s open and free for everybody. It doesn’t matter what country you are from or your ethnicity. They learn that we are all people.”
The experiences children have in the program are some Drum has enjoyed as well. In 2016, he was dubbed the unofficial mayor of Greenport, and he served as a New York State Assemblyman for a day in 2017. He tells his mother that next he would like to be Fire Chief as well.
The nonprofit has also supported scholarships over the years, including recent ones for lifeguard and CPR classes. “Kids can have a skill that can in turn make them money,” Hurst says. “School is not meant for everyone, but this sets them up for success in their future. Paul wants kids to have an experience where they are important.”
Klein and Hurst hope to expand the Paul Drum Life Experience Project further to benefit junior and senior high school students. The goal is to raise an awareness of local opportunities that will help them find new interests or spark their curiosity, learn new skills, and lead to employment opportunities.
“Being excited about the little things turns into big things,” Drum says. “Everyone has something to give.”
The 5th annual Pirate and Mermaid Breakfast will take place during the 29th annual Maritime Festival on Sunday, September 23 from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at Front Street Station. Tickets are $15 per person, and will include a buffet breakfast with pirates and mermaids, goodie bags, face painting, and live music. Guests are encouraged to dress up as well. Proceeds will benefit the Paul Drum Life Experience Project.