By Nikki Chan
Local teens soared to great heights last weekend, flying private pilot planes atop the Santa Barbara coast as part of a unique experience coordinated by several local organizations.
The Saturday event was made possible by support and donations from the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, Above All Aviation flight school and the nonprofit A Different Point of View.
“Most of these kids have never been in an airplane,” EAA Chapter 527 President Carl Hopkins said. “I get kids in there, we take off and they’re screaming for joy.”
A Different Point of View founder Lynn Houston said she wanted to show at-risk teens a different perspective by presenting them with the opportunity to fly private pilot planes. She used flying as an analogy for life — that by the teens controlling the plane, they would be able to see that they can determine the direction their lives take.
The nonprofit program, founded in June 2011, seeks to assist at-risk teens with meeting their goals by pairing them with mentors to help with schoolwork, find jobs and plan for their future. The flight experience is the first step toward identifying their goals.
The program is currently made up of 20 teens and is continuing to expand. Houston said she plans to serve 100 teens per year through the program.
She said the program’s message is to “Engage, Inspire, Transform.” Throughout the yearlong commitment between the student and a mentor, a goal is identified, and the program works to provide resources to help the student meet his or her goal. Houston said that through the program, a former gang member who was a quadriplegic learned to fly.
A teen flier is all smiles after taking his first flight aboard a private aircraft.
“Whatever you need,” Houston said. “We’re going to be there to help you.”
Ashley, a 17-year-old student from Independent Studies at El Puente Community School, learned to fly private pilot planes with a scholarship to Above All Aviation’s two-week summer camp. She said her grandpa had passed away and she was struggling with school during the same week she joined A Different Point of View. A year later, Ashley is now on track to graduate high school this spring and plans to pursue a career as an interior designer. Through the program, she said she was able to find a job and an internship.
Some of the students involved in the program go on to be pilots, Houston said; however, that is not the goal. She said the program’s purpose is not only to show teens a different point of view, but to respect other points of view as well.
A Different Point of View works with local organizations, including the United Boys & Girls Clubs and the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, to identify at-risk teens who might benefit from the program. Houston said interest continues to grow through word of mouth.
“We’ve never said no to anyone,” she said, but added that the program is intended for kids who are struggling.
The program collaborates with Above All Aviation flight school and the EAA to provide teens with access to pilots and flight lessons at no cost for the initial flight, and at a reduced cost thereafter. Shawn Sullivan, director of operations for Above All Aviation, said the company offered to sponsor a child from A Different Point of View with flight lessons each session.
The EAA routinely hosts a Young Eagles event, intended to encourage kids to become pilots, twice a year, during spring and fall. The most recent Young Eagles event, which occurred Oct. 6 in Santa Ynez, took 73 kids up in planes, Hopkins said. Saturday’s event was scheduled for kids who didn’t get to fly a plane that day.