In 2007, like many young teens, Liz Palmer was searching for something to fire her imagination. On a visit to her grandmother’s home in Westport, Washington, she saw Lady Washington at the dock. Almost immediately, the high school student from Moses Lake, Wash., wanted to sign up as a shipboard volunteer.

Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, on July 9, 2007, she boarded Lady Washington, and her two-week commitment turned into a seven-month adventure. In January 2008, she resumed her high school classes. But Liz was eager to return to the ship, and tell the public about “her” ship and its history. In the following years, she’s come back again and again, signing on as a topman and education coordinator, and she has sailed to all major ports of the west coast.

In June 2010, Liz graduated from high school, and she was honored with a prestigious President’s Volunteer Service Award for more than 5,000 hours of community service aboard Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. Liz received a gold pin, a certificate of achievement, and a letter of congratulations signed by President Barack Obama. She also received a letter of congratulations from Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Liz went on to graduate from the Northwest School of Wooden Boat building in Port Hadlock. She then returned to get her certification as a steel boat builder. She came back in June 2012 to work as a shipwright’s apprentice during a major Lady Washington restoration project.

Liz is a different person today than she was in 2007. “Living in such close quarters, you learn a lot of people skills,” she says. “You can’t hold a grudge. You have to open up and be straight with people. You share a lot of things you wouldn’t normally.”