Kayti Ramirez, an 18-year-old
freshman at Santa Clara University, started attending Ariel Theatrical’s camps
the summer after her sophomore year at Santa Catalina High School. She was cast
as the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and then went on to become a camp counselor
to the younger kids.
“At the beginning of each day we’d
get together and Miss Gail would say, ‘Remember, whether you’re cleaning
toilets or wiping a 4-year-old’s nose or helping on stage, it’s about something
much bigger. It’s about character and building community, having
self-discipline and integrity.’ That translated to my life, schoolwork,
relationships with my friends and family.”
Miss Gail is Gail Higginbotham,
Ariel’s founder and artistic director who started the nonprofit more than 25
years ago when she moved her young family to Salinas. “What really lurks in the
bottom of most children’s hearts is the desire to stand on a stage with a
costume and lights on them and have people clap for them,” she says.
Ariel offers three, one-week summer
theater camps where kids and teens take classes every day, separated into age
and skill groups, focusing on singing, acting, movement and other performance
skills. Each camper signs a code of conduct, in which she pledges to be
courteous and respectful, own her mistakes and not make excuses. Toward the end
of the week they start putting together a recital, which they perform for
family and friends.
“The theater part of Ariel is the
modality by which we have them here, but the reason for Ariel is to help give
them their best shot at creating a principled and productive life, the skills
they need to make choices that are positive [in order] to succeed,”
If you drive along Highway 68 on a regular
basis, you’ve probably noticed there’s seldom, if ever, a roadside trash
problem. That’s because a dedicated group of individuals has volunteered to
keep the well-traveled corridor clean.
Decked out in their protective helmets and
yellow vests, these people regularly scour their assigned stretch of the
roadway, filling bright orange plastic bags with roadside rubbish.
Diane Chatwin is one of these unsung heroes. Along with friends and family,
Chatwin has been cleaning a two-mile stretch of Highway 68 from the Toro Creek
Bridge east to the Toro Regional Park turnoff. As part of the Adopt-A-Highway
Program, Chatwin and her late husband, Marshall, volunteered to collect trash
18 years ago on behalf of ARIEL Theatrical.
For her unrelenting efforts over nearly two decades, Chatwin, who lives in the Robley
Road area, recently was honored as the Adopt-A-Highway Volunteer of the Decade.
When she heard that she was receiving the award, Chatwin said she wondered,
“Why me? There are so many people who have been doing this a long time.”
A choreographer with ARIEL Theatrical since the children’s theater was
launched, Chatwin decided to volunteer for Adopt-A-Highway in the group’s name.
“I felt it would be good publicity for the group, since a lot of the children
in the program lived along Highway 68,” she explained. A sign along the highway
names ARIEL Theatrical as the clean-up agent for Chatwin’s stretch.
When she started, Chatwin did one side of the road and her husband did the
other. They both enjoyed the drivers who often would show their appreciation by
either honking or waving as they drove past.
“It also was nice when bike riders and joggers passing by would acknowledge
what we were doing with a thank you,” she said.
After her husband’s death three years ago, Chatwin’s adult son, Michael, and
some friends, Lee and Alison Hinkle, stepped up to assist her in the monthly
cleanup. Even after a bout with cancer sidelined her for three months last
year, the 78-year-old woman still refuses to give up her Saturday morning
Over the years she’s collected litter along the roadside, Chatwin and her
helpers have found some interesting things. By far the most bizarre discovery
was a large plastic bag containing a cow’s head and hooves. Marshall discovered
the macabre remains and Chatwin thought this might be tied into some cattle
Another time the couple found a bag with old credit-card receipts. “We knew the
person whose name was on the receipts so we contacted her,” Chatwin said. “She
told us her son was taking a load to the dump and didn’t realize the bag had
fallen off his truck.”
In 18 years one would think that Chatwin would have found some money along the
roadside. With a laugh, she said that years ago one of her helpers found a $20
bill and once she did stumble upon a pile of pennies, but that was it.
By far the funniest thing that ever happened while on trash duty involved
“A lady came up to him and asked what his offense was,” she said, explaining
the event. “Marshall told her he wasn’t part of a prison detail but the woman’s
response was, ‘Oh, that’s OK, you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed.’ ”
Over the years she has been an Adopt-A-Highway volunteer, Chatwin has noticed
that the amount of roadside refuse has diminished. Where she usually collected
six to eight bags of junk on her side, today she averages about three to four.
Although she does a formal cleanup usually about every four weeks, Chatwin said
she can’t stand to see a lot of junk along the roadway. Because she travels the
road so often, she’ll pull over and collect a tire, piece of wood or box that’s
fallen off a vehicle and toss it in her trunk.
With a smile, Chatwin also noted that, thanks to her Highway 68 duty, she can’t
go anywhere now without picking up trash. “I think it is a disease,” she said
with a laugh. “I can’t stand to see trash anywhere now, so I’m always reaching
down to pick it up and dispose of it.”
Jeanette Green, the Adopt-A-Highway Coordinator for the North Region, said that
Volunteer of the Decade award was started last year and given to a Santa Cruz
“We will only give this special award when we feel there is someone who really
deserves it,” she said. “Diane is certainly one of those individuals. She does
Green noted there are numerous highway sections available on Highway 101 from
Salinas to King City if anyone is interested in volunteering for the