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Fishing for a Brighter Future

By Matt Katz

Photo by Michael Moore

 

he first hook was set when I learned that Catherine Meek (cover + p. 41), executive director of School on Wheels, doesn’t draw a salary. There are loads of nonprofits in the Tri-Counties area, but I don’t know of any other whose ED forgoes a paycheck in order to better fulfill the mission statement.

What ultimately reeled me in, though, was that Catherine got her start with School on Wheels by volunteering in Skid Row. In fact, she was the organization’s first volunteer in that Downtown LA netherworld.

Skid Row is no joke. This is a place that makes the Ventura River bottom look like a Ritz-Carlton, a 54-block apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles where thousands of inhabitants sleep beneath tarps, in urine-soaked cardboard boxes, wherever they can. The makeshift camp now represents our nation’s largest concentration of homeless people.

You don’t volunteer in Skid Row for a pat on the back. There are no tax benefits. You do it guilelessly, with purity of intent, because you’re passionate about a cause—in this case, education for homeless children, which Meek considers an inalienable right as well as an economic imperative for our society.

The fact that Catherine eschews a salary is more than admirable: it’s an indication that School on Wheels is everything it claims to be. In terms of nonprofit leadership, she represents the highest standard, the sort of authenticity that all charitable nonprofits, as tax-exempt “public benefit” corporations, should have as a matter of ethical guidance, not to mention legal compliance.

Our Conversation article, featuring commercial photographer Chris Zsarnay (p. 35), diverges from the typical path in that we generally feature artists rather than professionals who’ve pursued the business side of an art form. Chris is a rare breed: the non-starving artist. He pulls it off by tempering his artistic appetite with his clients’ needs, and this seemed like a good opportunity for us to balance our own art-oriented skew by focusing on a decidedly practical form of photography.

We also visit Laura Dekkers (p. 23), an Ojai native who pursued her dream to the neon lights of Broadway. The difference between Laura and most of the starry-eyed legions who preceded her is that she actually realized her dream. She had every intention of staying in NYC, too, until she had kids and came to see the familial value of her hometown.

The Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (p. 11), located in Camarillo, is a place we’ve wanted to cover for quite a while, although it doesn’t have the flesh-and-blood editorial hook we typically lean toward. With a $10 million expansion of its museum in the works, this local “secret” is poised to become the largest branch of the CAF in California.

I’m all for preserving the past, but I do admit to mixed feelings about the glorification of fighter planes. In spite of that, my wife and I recently took our kids to the Point Mugu Air Show. Strange how little has changed (swap Russians for terrorists) since I was a kid watching the Blue Angels scream back and forth between ruler-straight crop rows and the familiar silhouette of Sandstone Peak. It is a distinctly Ventura County scene.

And I’ve come to see hope in those technological marvels. For all our foibles, we are an astonishingly capable species. It makes me wonder just how much more we could accomplish if we were to dedicate a similar amount of energy and resources to domestic issues like homelessness, education, healthcare, and the welfare of our nation’s children.

10-1-2015

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