From sailing to axe throwing, opportunities to acquire a new skill abound locally

These days, cities need more than trendy restaurants and cookie-cutter gastropubs to bring in crowds, especially when it comes to attracting those coveted millennial residents: young professionals at the beginning of their careers who are eager to spend money now that they’re not flat broke.

So as our region’s long-hoped-for renaissance continues to unfold, and as Wilmington rebrands itself as a vibrant yet affordable place to live, work and play, more small businesses and nonprofits are stepping up to offer experiences that are fun, educational, and, so the hope goes, life-changing.

Whether you’re interested in a certificate program to reach the next stage in your career or simply want to learn a new hobby to occupy leisure time, there’s something here for you, some of it interesting, some of it quirky, and all of it educational. ?

Among NextFab’s capabilities is 3D printing. Photo Jim Coarse/Moonloop Photography

Making Things

Next Fab
Address: 503 N. Tatnall St., Wilmington
Phone: 477-7330
Fee: ranges from $19/month for beginners to $199/month for unlimited use

When Philadelphia-based NextFab expanded to downtown Wilmington last year, it filled a critical void in the city’s arts and design scene. Until then, Wilmington lacked an affordable coworking space and design studio with access to 3D printing, laser cutting and engraving, electronics, robotics, computer-controlled wood-cutting and more.

“Whatever you want to create, you can learn how to make it here,” says Wilmington Location Manager Kate Brown. “NextFab offers high tech digital and traditional fabrication equipment and training to increase your skills and expand your capabilities, whether for your project, your business, or your personal life. Whatever your vision, NextFab’s training can help you get there.”

For professional designers, NextFab offers a range of membership options that include unlimited on-site access.

Upcoming workshops include 3D printing, build your own robotic racecar (open to ages 10 and up) and for the holiday-lover, build your own electric snowflake with “smart” LED lights.

The bike shop at Urban Bike Project. Photo courtesy of Urban Bike Project


Urban Bike Project
Address: 1500 N. Walnut St., Wilmington
Phone: 300-4323
Fee: $15

The past few years have been good for bikers in northern Delaware. With the opening of the impressive Jack A. Markell Trail, as well as new bike lanes in Wilmington and surrounding scenic byways, there’s never been a better time to start pedaling.

If you’re new to biking, Urban Bike Project will get you set up. Located on Wilmington’s east side near the Brandywine River, UBP sells affordable, refurbished bikes and offers educational programming on fixing flat tires, brake repair, safe commuting and much more.

“Whether we’re teaching youth or adults, we always want our program participants to walk away from our educational programming with two things: confidence and self-sufficiency,” says Laura Wilburn, executive director of UBP. “If a person feels comfortable identifying and solving mechanical problems on their bike, they’re going to be more confident traveling further from home by bike.”

Classes are held regularly on Monday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. and cost $15 per class or $50 for the month.

Set sail on the Kalmar Nyckel. Photo courtesy of the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation


Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
Address: 1124 E. 7th St., Wilmington
Phone: 429-7447
Fee: $115

Longing for a seafaring adventure? Learn to sail on the Kalmar Nyckel.

Launched in 1997, the Kalmar Nyckel is a replica of the Dutch merchant vessel that brought Swedish settlers to the shores of the Christina River in 1638. With its home port in the Copeland Maritime Center on the 7th  Street Peninsula, the ship is maintained and operated by a crew of more than 300 volunteers.

“We built Kalmar Nyckel, with many volunteers and years of labor, to explain a piece of American history that goes beyond Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower. It’s a floating classroom,” explains Executive Director Cathy Parsells. “It’s uniquely Delaware.”

The Kalmar Nyckel Foundation offers classes four times a year to teach volunteers how to sail a 17th-century square-rigged ship, which includes tying knots, hauling lines, climbing ladders and setting sail. Once trained, volunteers may crew for daytrips or week-long expeditions to other ports.

Winter classes begin mid-January and spring classes in mid-April.


The Nature Conservancy in Delaware
Address: 100 W. 10th St., Suite 1107 Wilmington
Phone: 654-4707
Fee: $30

Have you ever wanted to be a citizen scientist?

As part of the Stream Stewards program at The Nature Conservancy, volunteers learn to monitor water quality in streams that flow through First State National Historical Park, all of which flow into the Brandywine Creek, the sole source for Wilmington’s drinking water.

Once a month, volunteers are trained to perform water quality tests and review data collected by stream monitoring equipment. Volunteers also join a community of citizen scientists dedicated to conservation.

“I want to make science fun and accessible to everyone and help people understand the importance of using science to make good conservation decisions,” says Kim Hachadoorian, project manager for the Stream Stewards program. “When people are engaged in the conservation process they will have a connection to nature, and I think that’s the best way to inspire stewardship.”

For more information about becoming a Stream Steward, contact Hachadoorian at ?


Mt. Cuba Center
Address: 3120 Barley Mill Rd., Hockessin
Phone: 239-4244
Fee: Varies

Few organizations in northern Delaware have the capacity and the mission to offer the range of educational programming that Mt. Cuba Center does. With dozens of courses and workshops in gardening, conservation, art and wellness, the center is in a class of its own.

For the weekend gardener, Mt. Cuba Center offers dozens of single-day workshops on container gardening, tree and shrub management, mosses, ferns, garden design, tool sharpening and much more.

For the avid gardener, the Ecological Gardening Certificate program offers multi-day workshops covering more advanced concepts, like plant disease management, controlling invasive plants and ecological landscape design.

“Our classes, gardens and website are great local resources for communities to obtain the best information on native-plant gardening in this area,” says Duncan Himmelman, education manager at Mt. Cuba Center. “Whether you’re looking for advice on what plants to use, how to get rid of invasive species, being creative with eco-friendly art projects, or merely wanting to immerse yourself in the natural world, we have you covered.”

View the complete Fall/Winter Course Catalog at

Photo courtesy of Battle Axe

Axe Throwing

Battle Axe
Address: 820 Pencader Dr., Newark
Fee: $25 per person

Trust me: Throwing an axe into a plywood target is as much fun as it sounds, even if you suck at it, which I most certainly do.

Battle Axe started as travelling axe-throwing facility, with mobile targets assembled on-site. I happened to catch them at Liquid Alchemy in Wilmington. About three meads into my unplanned early dinner of salted pretzels, my friend and I signed up to throw some axes. I landed a few, as did my friend, but we were put to shame by the steely older woman next to us, as well as by several kids.

“Our goal is to give our customers a sense of empowerment,” says CEO Mike Evans. “There is nothing better than the feeling of landing an axe in the target for the first time. We take our time with our customers and get them to that end.” He’s right.

In addition to mobile axe throwing, Battle Axe recently opened the state’s first competitive axe throwing facility in Newark.

So before joining that bowling league, you may want to check out Battle Axe.

Arts and Crafts

Delaware Art Museum
Address: 2301 Kentmere Pkwy., Wilmington
Phone: 351-8551
Fee: varies

We all need to exercise the right side of our brains, and it doesn’t require an art school education.

The studio arts program at the Delaware Art Museum offers classes in drawing and painting, ceramics, photography and metalsmithing, all of which are taught by a cadre of exceptional teaching artists. Classes for beginners are offered every semester.

Full disclosure: my wife, Rebecca Howell, manages studio arts at the Delaware Art Museum, but that’s not why I’m including it here. For me, learning to throw clay on a pottery wheel was a life-changing experience. I had never seen a pottery wheel in my life, let alone used one. Within hours, it felt like I had just reunited with a long-lost friend.

As it turns out, my experience was not unusual.

“We frequently see people coming into our programs with little or no artistic experience, or maybe they used to be an artist but that was decades ago, and the process of discovery and the time spent within a community of artists ends up having a profound effect in one or more areas of their lives,” says Rebecca.

So what are you waiting for? Use the right side of your brain. Sign up for a workshop. Or go on a Clay Date.

Terrarium-making workshop at Wilmington Brew Works. Photo courtesy of Delaware Center for Horticulture

Grow Things

Delaware Center for Horticulture
Address: 1810 N. Dupont St., Wilmington
Phone: 658-6262
Fee: free

No organization has done more to beautify Wilmington than the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH). I think that deserves a full stop.

DCH supports more than 40 community gardens throughout New Castle County; its community forestry program has planted more than 15,000 trees on Wilmington streets since 1977; and crews of staff and volunteers maintain public landscapes like traffic islands and sidewalk gardens.

In other words, DCH does a lot of good in our community. So when you attend workshops sponsored by DCH, like the wildly popular terrarium workshops at Wilmington Brew Works, rest assured that your dollars are supporting a good cause.

“The Delaware Center for Horticulture’s mission is to inspire individuals and communities through the power of plants,” says Mackenzie Knight-Fochs, education and outreach manager at DCH. “Our educational programs are one way we seek to fulfill this mission.”

Next year, DCH will feature monthly programming that examines a seasonal aspect of horticulture, kicking off with an interactive presentation on organic gardening. Also, says Knight-Fochs, expect more terrarium-making workshops at Wilmington Brew Works.

Hiking and Kayaking

Wilmington Trail Club
Address: P.O. Box 526, Hockessin
Phone: 652-6881
Fee: varies

Catch one of the Wilmington Trail Club’s weekly public hikes and you’ll be surrounded by Delaware’s most beautiful natural scenery, including Beaver Valley and First State National Historical Park, Brandywine Creek State Park and White Clay Creek Preserve.

In addition to hiking, Wilmington Trail Club offers kayaking classes in the spring. Learn basic kayak safety as well as recreational and whitewater kayaking. And with rentals available, you don’t even need to own your own kayak to get started.

Learn for College Credit or a Certificate

Delaware Technical and Community College
Address: 530 E. 4th St., Wilmington
Phone: Stanton 454-3900 | Wilmington 571-5300
Fee: varies

Delaware Technical and Community College is the only community college in Delaware, and it offers degrees and certificates in more than 100 specializations.

Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the school offers “IT Academies” for unemployed and underemployed Delaware residents with at least one year of previous IT experience with specialized training in database management, programming and networking.

And DelTech’s workforce training program offers some fun options, like coding for kids and virtual reality for kids. If your job requires certification to operate a forklift or handle hazardous material, then you can find that at DelTech too. Even if your job doesn’t require it, don’t you still want to learn how to operate a forklift? Exactly.

Wilmington University

Address: 320 N. DuPont Hwy., New Castle
Phone: (877) 967-5464
Fee: varies

Wilmington University offers a variety of certificate programs ideal for those looking to reach the next stage of their career or to add value to a degree already in progress. Most certificate programs require just five courses.

With six locations in Delaware, including three in New Castle County, Wilmington offers more than 60 certificate programs in fields like accounting, human resources, marketing, nonprofit management, nursing, criminal justice and more.