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
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
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
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.”