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The Hawk's Nest

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Ernie and LInda on Catalina Ernie and LInda on Catalina

On assignment in Catalina

We disembarked from the one-hour ferry ride and looked at the hills surrounding Avalon Bay on Catalina Island. I was still in shock we were on the island I had first heard of in The Four Preps 1958 hit song “Twenty-Six Miles Across the Sea.” In truth it’s only 22 miles.

I was in shock because a few short weeks ago we had been talking about needing to get away. We didn’t have a clue where to go or how we could do it. Still, the conversation featured being someplace different for a few days and if we didn’t need to shovel snow or chop wood it would be even better; then the phone call saying we had won a trip to the “Island of Romance.” I never even thought of going there, wasn’t too sure how to get there.

The call jogged my memory, I had purchased a raffle ticket to support the SOARING program at the Unity Church in Coeur d’Alene,; really I had said I would buy one, then asked Linda to please give them twenty bucks, which she did. I wasn’t sure how this SOARING program worked but knew several youth who had been through the program and benefitted from it.

SOARING means Special Opportunities Affirm Recognition in Noteworthy Goals and is a program started by Joe McCarron, a counselor and pilot in Coeur d’Alene. The program uses flying as a metaphor for life experiences. The participants need to set goals of their choice and work to reach them. Enrollees may be kids dealing with kid issues. It will help those who are dealing with serous family issues, health, divorce etc. There has been promising results for youth on probation. There are several meetings where they work with others on attaining their intent. When met there is a graduation which includes a flight with a family member and licensed pilot; during the flight the graduate (there have been 106 of them so far) actually fly the plane.

McCarron said, “The soul of the program is the kids. It’s hard to articulate but it’s about moms crying and kids flying, and family, (about) kids making good choices and attaining their goals.”

Several groups and agencies are interested in sponsoring a SOARING program but the numbers are limited by a lack of facilitators. Each group needs two facilitators, and one must be a pilot. These leaders do not need counseling experience; they will receive in-depth training.  

James Barber of Living Cellular, an active supporter, said “There is a training for pilots interested coming up in April. Registration must be in by April 15 and can be done by contacting Joe McCarron at 208-661-0584.” The training will be held on April 26. Along with Barber several other businesses are on board with the program: Coeur d’Alene Hand Therapy, Quiznos Classic Subs in Coeur d’Alene, and Northern Sky Air Center owned by Jay Burdeaux all are active with their support.  

Jay Burdeaux was our contact for the trip. He arranged our flight on Horizon, which was donated, and made sure we received our voucher for the room on the island. This was not a typical free room with a view of the parking garage; we were in a top floor suite with a balcony looking over the bay. The Seaport Village Inn(www.catalinacatalina.com) donated the room; Raul and Simon were wonderful, friendly hosts taking care of our every need.

We wondered what life would be like on the island since it’s a famous destination resort. It was just what was needed. We relaxed by walking to several points, eating overlooking the ocean or on a deck above it, at casual but very well appointed restaurants, each with an extensive wine list. One quiet, fun spot, and an easy walk, was the Botanical Garden built by the wife of chewing gum magnate James Wrigley Jr. The Wrigley Memorial, built first to be a mausoleum, is the focal point of the gardens featuring several species that grow only on Catalina or the surrounding island.

The family has been a major part of the development of the island where they created the forty-two-thousand acre Catalina Island Conservancy. James Wrigley also built the major landmark on the island, a domed round casino. The casino, which has no gambling, is a theater, ballroom and museum. They point out that casino means “gathering place” and isn’t necessarily a place for wagering. During the big band era all the major bands played the Casino Ballroom.

We enjoyed the slow pace of Avalon. Part of the charm is very few cars; the island limits how many cars are allowed on so most locals travel by golf cart, bicycle or walking. The hills around the bay are steep, many walkways are steps, but the views from the tops are fantastic.   

So there we were, someplace different; a place we never would have thought of going. An internationally famous resort with a sleepy ocean village feel, which is twenty-six miles across the sea, but really only twenty-two; has a mausoleum where no one is buried and a casino where you can’t gamble, as a result of a raffle ticket I had forgotten about.

So if someone tries to sell you raffle ticket for the SOARING program don’t buy it, I want to increase my chances for a return trip.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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