Fuel: Rich. Instruments: Set. Skyhawk ready for takeoff! Propellers turn and prop engines roar though parted clouds with a young student in the captain’s chair, all in an effort to teach a valuable lesson in perspective.
A Different Point of View (ADPOV) is a nonprofit organization with an innovative approach to helping at-risk teens unlock the power of their own inner potential by teaching them to fly. The program pairs each student with a flight instructor and is given stewardship of a single-engine Cessna 172 to be used during instruction.
Lynn Houston, a former aviation professional with SkyWest Airlines who founded the program in 2011 and was herself a runaway at the age of 17, said it has been her lifelong dream to realize a way to show troubled teens the bigger picture.
“Our mission is to engage, inspire and transform youth who are in danger of losing their way,” she said. “Through aviation, education and mentoring we show them a world they’ve never seen before.”
Most of the youths in the program have either been through the juvenile justice system or have been court-ordered to participate as part of their probation. Luis Santos, a 19-year-old graduate of Los Robles High School at Los Prietos Boys Camp, was once such teen. In 2013, he was ordered to take ADPOV as “punishment” for violating his probation. He has since turned his life around and has been hired as a paid intern to help mentor new students.
“When I was younger, my definition of fun was drinking, getting high and hanging out with the wrong people,” Santos told Noozhawk. “But the first time they let me fly I said ‘Whoa,’ and I realized there was more to life than I ever knew.”
On the first day of the three-day program, students are given a tour of a local radio control tower and receive an introduction to the phonetic language used by ground control operators. Afterward, students are taught to taxi the plane, take off, turn and eventually land. Volunteers from Above All Aviation, a local flight instructional organization, join students in the co-pilot seats to teach them the instruments and controls. Each plane is equipped with two sets of controls so instructors can take charge should a problem arise while in the air.
Paul Phillips, 40, Houston’s partner at ADPOV and a career commercial airline pilot with SkyWest, said he continues to be inspired by the change the program ignites in teens.
“For many youth today, their world is very small,” he said. “They don’t see all of the potential, especially that which exists in themselves. We’re using aviation as a tool to take people out of their comfort zone and show them the sky’s the limit.”
Joseph Monarres, 18, loved the program so much he is taking it for a second time. He said he was rattled the first time he heard the engine start but he got addicted to the freeing feeling of taking to the skies.
“It’s so exhilarating,” Monarres said. “Everything is different up there.”
ADPOV finances the lessons through fund raising and partnership with the Santa Barbara Teen Coalition, the City of Santa Barbara and other groups. In addition to the three-day program, ADPOV offers year-round mentoring and monthly “Discovery Days” in which students and their parents are taught about the program. Houston said she keeps track of each student and follows their progress years after they leave the program.
“Many of these youths come from single-parent homes and have no idea what’s out there in the world, and many turn to drugs and alcohol,” she said. “But if you give them the power to become their very best selves, transformation happens. That’s what this program is about.”