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Holidays On Ice Youthful Civil Air Patrol Volunteers Spend Out-Of-School Time Making A Difference

It wasn’t all snowball fights and sledding down hills for kids out of school this week. Some have logged a lot of hours to help ice storm victims.

Fifty Civil Air Patrol volunteers in Spokane, ranging from 12 to 18 years old, are driving people from their powerless homes to shelters, delivering food to elderly shut-ins and answering waves of urgent phone calls.

The volunteers have made the county’s emergency services office on West Gardner their second home. There, they field an average of 100 calls an hour.

“Emergency services, how may I help you?” a young girl says.

Many of the cadets are putting in 16- to 18-hour shifts. They know how difficult this time is. Many of their homes are blacked-out, too.

Late Friday, 15-year-old Adam King notched his 30th-straight hour of storm assistance.

“People need us,” King said. “It’s the right thing to do. Besides, it’s better than freezing at home with nothing to do.”

In spite of their youth, the disaster training the Civil Air Patrol cadets get prepared them for this moment. The patrol is on Spokane County’s list as a source for emergency volunteers.

Tuesday afternoon, when the fierce storm started downing thousands of trees and power lines, 20 volunteer dispatchers answered 500 calls an hour.

“I talked to an older woman yesterday who was just hysterical,” said 12-year-old Jennifer Perez.

“She finally calmed down after we told her we could get a van to take her to a shelter.”

Perez said she finds a lot of satisfaction in helping those who may have a hard time helping themselves.

Donning camouflage clothing bearing their names, the cadets look like young soldiers. At least until some of the younger ones scoot through the command center.

Some are under 5 feet tall and are still wearing braces.

“The other night, we moved probably 500 cots into a shelter, and the kids who were there were looking at us wondering who we were,” said John Henderson, 12. “They thought we were in the Army.”

The patrol, an all-volunteer branch of the Air Force, has been active in Spokane since World War II. The local chapter claims 100 cadets, the largest unit in Washington. Two-thirds of the members are teenagers.

“We couldn’t exist without them,” said Phil Williams, a Civil Air Patrol captain.

Most of the youngest volunteers come from military families who want to pursue military careers themselves.

Francine Chandler, another patrol captain, has been a part-time teacher in Spokane District 81 for seven years. If she had her way, every student would be required to join the air patrol.

“This is a completely different breed of child,” she said. “They want to be here and they want to be useful.”

By Thursday night, though, exhaustion was setting in.

“Morale was getting pretty low,” cadet Chris Smith, 16, recalled. “We were getting tired and hungry.”

But someone in the community who heard about the work the kids were doing delivered a load of sandwiches as a show of appreciation.

“I think that got everybody going,” Smith said. “It was nice to know we’re appreciated.”

Smith is convinced the volunteer work he’s doing will prepare him for the future. He wants to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“We’re all doing things most kids our age aren’t,” the teenager said. “One day that will carry over into real life.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color Photos

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