EAA Mentor Helps Transform Former Gang Member's Life
Hualdo Mendoza has turned his life around through an aviation-based intervention program.
June 20, 2012 - EAA Chapter One member and retired Air Force Colonel Jon Goldenbaum has seen firsthand the therapeutic effects of strong mentorship and working with airplanes.
Ten years ago, former street gang members Hualdo Mendoza and his brother showed up at Flabob Airport in Riverside, California, to take part in a gang intervention program sponsored by the local school district, the Tom Wathen Center, and Poly-Fiber. The two had been kicked out of school, and Goldbaum - EAA 218394/Warbirds 594627/Vintage 15278 - became their mentor, teaching them all about airplane restoration and fabric covering.
The brothers excelled at the craft, and restored several antique aircraft to excellent condition. They learned from Goldbaum, who used regimented techniques learned from his experience in fighter squadron behavior.
Today, Hualdo Mendoza, 25, is a pilot, and works as a technical specialist for Poly-Fiber. He travels internationally to teach others how to apply fabric and paint to aircraft. Mendoza has also graduated from high school with honors, has two children, and is working toward his A&P certificate.
Earlier this year, Mendoza learned just how far he had come after he and Goldenbaum helped restore a Nieuport 28 replica - a highly prized World War I fighter belonging to the U.S. Air Force's 94th "Hat in the Ring" squadron, at Langley Air Force Base. The replica had been damaged in a wind storm.
When they completed the project, the Air Force offered Mendoza the very rare opportunity to ride in a T-38 Talon as a gesture of appreciation for his contribution to their prized Nieuport.
Now a long way from the streets, Mendoza has learned the value of hard work and airplanes, thanks to a gracious EAA member.