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Fundraiser charts course to Piedras Blancas: Brunch at light station to raise money for AUSD mentor program

Posted: Friday, Jan 20th, 2017

Nicholas Mattson/Atascadero News Members of the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation discuss the vision of the upcoming fundraiser brunch with Piedras Blancas park manager Ryan Cooper, far left, during a visit to Piedras Blancas Light Station in October.

SAN SIMEON — A new mentoring program at the Atascadero Unified School District is putting together funding support to begin implementation, and the effort is spearheaded by AUSD assistant superintendent E.J. Rossi and the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation.

Together, Rossi and the foundation joined the ranks of contestants in the 2017 Friends of the Atascadero Library Dancing With Ours Stars to raise funds and awareness for the program, and tickets to the champagne brunch on Sunday, Jan. 29 at Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Simeon are still available.

Part of the DWOS requirements for dancers and their committees is to fundraise for their cause. Rossi will dance with his daughter Tobi — who currently attends Atascadero High School — in the 2017 DWOS event in March.

The event, a Wayne Cooper champagne brunch, is said to be the first of its kind at the light station, with Piedras Blancas park manager Ryan Cooper facilitating.

“It came up because (AGF president) Wayne Cooper’s son Ryan is the park manager of Piedras Blancas,” Atascadero Greyhound Foundation executive director Donn Clickard said. “Ryan (Cooper) offered the opportunity for a fundraiser. When E.J. (Rossi) started raising money with Dancing With Our Stars, we went out to take a look.”

With a walk around the facilities, the vision took hold and details were established.

“The first thing we discovered is that parking is a real problem,” Clickard said, “so we decided that when we came out here we should take charter busses.”

The 140-year-old lighthouse at Piedras Blancas was included in the expansion of the California Coastal National Monument on Jan. 12, and is undergoing a restoration, but stands as a pillar of the hope it once gave to ships traveling the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The parallel between Piedras Blancas and the Lighthouse Atascadero program that seeks to produce the new mentoring program at AUSD is a reminder of the rough waters of adolescence that the mentors will help young students navigate through the middle school and into high school.

“Last year, I visited the leadership class at the high school, talking about the Reality Tour and encouraging them to attend,” Clickard said. “We were talking about the students at the middle school, and a girl from the class said she would like to mentor another student.”

That seed grew into a conversation with Candle, Inc. executive director Norma Norris, who developed the Reality Tour that is hosted in Atascadero annually.

“I called her to see if they had a mentoring program that we could purchase,” Clickard said. “They just finished a four-year study on high school students mentoring sixth graders. She gave us the program at no cost, and we are the pilot program.”

The funding for the program will be initiated by the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation, but the program will be run by AUSD.

“The mentor program, like the Lighthouse program, it is done by the school district,” Clickard said. “We [AGF] don’t put on the program. We are like the booster club for this program.”

The program will create a chain of roles throughout the county to develop a network of support for the mentors.

“When you get students from Cal Poly, training our leadership kids how to be mentors, to work with the middle school kids on how to live positive and drug-free lifestyles, I think you are going to see this program become very successful,” Clickard said.

Clickard spent more than half his life supporting students in AUSD, as a teacher, athletic director, and AUSD board trustee. The new mentoring program puts another support structure in place to make the student body stronger.

“The whole objective is to make our kids better citizens in every way,” Clickard said. “This whole thing is so comprehensive and involving every aspect of our community.”

The Piedras Blancas event gives the community an opportunity to get involved in the initial funding, as well as get a sneak peak at the program and the Rossi’s DWOS dance number from the picturesque bluffs of the Piedras Blancas Light Station property.

“Their location is beautiful,” Clickard said. “There are few places as beautiful around the world.”

Tickets are still available in limited supply, and can be purchased from, or by calling Clickard at 712-6356. For more information on Piedras Blancas, go to

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