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Mon, Jun 02, 2003

Gang Members Help Themselves With DC-3 Project

This One Project Could Change - And Save - Lives

Five Riverside (CA) gang members are taking part in a special aviation project at Flabob Airport that could end up changing their lives. They're helping restore a DC-3 through a Federal Youth Opportunity Grant, administered under the direction of the Thomas W. Wathen Foundation and Poly Fiber Inc., both of which are based at Flabob. The effort is a partnership with the Jurupa United School District of Riverside County.

The boys spend three hours a day Monday through Thursday working on recovering the control surfaces of the aircraft, which is owned by the Commemorative Air Force of Riverside. The work not only teaches the kids a marketable skill, but also how to define a task and complete it with professional standards. Friday is for the classroom, where the youths receive instruction on the fundamentals of flight and leadership development.

No Moral Judgement, Just Aviation Work

The program, about four months old now, requires participants to be an active gang member who is enrolled in high school, not a dropout. The group has two graduating seniors, one who has already been accepted at San Bernardino State University, and three underclassmen. EAA member Jon Goldenbaum, retired Air Force colonel who flew in Vietnam and later with Delta Airlines, is involved in the program. He is co-owner of Poly Fiber, the nation’s leading manufacturer of aircraft coverings.

“We didn’t look them in the eye and tell them ‘gangs are bad’ and ‘you are all bad people,’” he said. “We just said ‘C’mon in, we’ll take you as gang members, we just want to show you something.’”

But Make No Mistake - Rules Are Rules

But there are stringent rules they have to follow that reinforce work discipline and organization. “They work well as a team because we left the gang intact,” Goldenbaum explained. “We have no discipline problems, no learning problems. They are all very bright, intelligent young men and they are excited about trying to get into a long-term program to eventually pick up their A&P licenses and do something other than work the streets.”

Dr. Art Peterson, who runs the Wathen Foundation, says this program fits well within Tom Wathen’s vision to improve opportunities in the area of the airport, and therefore, the quality of life. “We can help young people through aviation to improve their opportunities to make a meaningful career,” Peterson said. “This first program is working so well we’re in the process of creating a second proposal to continue the program.”

Anderson noted that the classroom portion of the program includes materials used in EAA’s Wild Blue Wonders program, including the textbook authored by Lane Wallace of Flying magazine, along with flight simulation materials. He said the youths are actually asking for more class time. “Imagine that!” he exclaimed.

This program’s short-term implications are encouraging. Goldenbaum adds, “This is an experiment to see whether these guys are manageable. The answer is not only yes, but hell yes!” The long-term plan is to create wider interest. A local community college has a very capable A&P school they’re trying to attach to. The challenge is to find them gainful employment as they learn.

“Aviation is so far away from anything these guys have ever thought about,” Goldenbaum said. We’ve given them some rides in airplanes, they’re excited about flying, working on airplanes, and can’t believe they’re working on something that’s actually going to fly.”

FMI: www.eaa.org

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