College foundation sets sights on Santorini

The sun sets over the Greek island of Santorini, where the Amador Community College Foundation transports fundraiser attendees in July.

Sometimes the only way to break out of that gray, everyday monotony is with good company, a vital mission and a dash of transitory imagination. This summer, a group that’s working hard to elevate young minds in the community offers a kind of journey of the mind – a fun escape chute meant to carry your spirit to a stunning and mysterious Greek island.

The mesmerizing theme for the Amador Community College Foundation’s upcoming gala fundraiser is “Sunset in Santorini.”

The foundation is a nonprofit that has made progress in bringing higher education and career-training opportunities to the central Gold Country, particularly in Amador, where would-be students live nearly an hour’s drive from the established community colleges in San Joaquin, Sacramento and Tuolumne counties.

In the past few years, the foundation has developed apprenticeship programs, including one for the culinary arts. Now, a new partnership with Arizona State University allows students here to take a number of online courses at the county’s College Connect Lab outside Martell. In June, College Connect moves into a brand-new center on Prospect Drive in Martell, one positioned right between Mother Lode Job Training and the Amador County Chamber of Commerce.

Lauren Hartwick with the foundation says the College Connect’s new spot will be a game-changer.

“Our new center is going to have a classroom in it, and we’re hoping that we can have some live classes,” Hartwick said. “Moving to the new center is going to be huge for us.”

But the work isn’t done. The foundation has now set its sights on expanding its apprenticeship programs, helping more students get “year to career” certifications and adding classes that can help with two- and four-year degrees. These are critical goals for providing opportunities to help sustain our rural workforce in Amador and northern Calaveras counties. But even with all of the foundation’s volunteers, its long-term vision requires funding and support. This year’s gala should be an easy sell, especially since it promises to sweep attendees away to the distant shores of Santorini.

Hartwick says the event’s theme captures a certain culture of inquiry that’s part and parcel to the mission of college.

“I think there’s something to be said for the Greeks’ love of learning, as well as the art and philosophy that came out of their classical world.”

Having wandered the brushy, lava-raked cliffs of Santorini myself, I can attest it’s a far-flung sliver of Mediterranean majesty. It’s definitely worth bringing your mind’s eye to, if not your body.

As a kid, I’d always been captivated by this part of the Aegean Sea, mostly thanks to the tale of Atlantis. In the early days of the History Channel (back when it still aired shows about history), there were alluring documentaries that explored how the Minoans that lived on Santorini and Crete may have inspired Plato’s Atlantean myth. The Minoans were technologically advanced seafarers with unparalleled achievements in architecture and art in the ancient world. In the second millennium B.C., Santorini’s volcano exploded in a worldwide cataclysm, shattering the island into three pieces and wiping out the great Minoan city of Akrotiri. The eruption also appears to have ended the Minoan settlements across the Sea of Crete through an endless cloud of ash.

But this terror at the dawn of history has left the origins of the disaster absolutely stunning to look at now. Today, Santorini’s fire-chiseled bluffs and beaches glow red and gold in the endless sunlight, striking and rugged against the perfect blue skies and warm glassy water. Its main city of Fira is a cliff-mounted clutter of unforgettable taverns, cafes and churches with donkeys strolling by. North of that is Oia, the town that appears in all the famous postcards of Santorini. That’s where staggered white villas and windmills are capped with sapphire rooftops that mirror the sea. Given my own Santorini obsession, I spent most of my time on the southern edge of the island. I knew it was the doorway to the haunting ruins of Akrotiri. Layers of ash have left the city remarkably preserved – one of best and oldest archeological sites on the globe outside of Egypt and Iran. It offers the chance to see, smell and touch the whispers of what came to be remembered as Atlantis. It’s a nexus between humanity’s endless ability to survive and our deepest legacy as storytellers.

The Sunset on Santorini fundraiser on July 13 recreates some Greek ambiance by transforming the Garden Terrace and Grand Oak Ballroom at the Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort with the foods, views and colors of the ancients.

Hartwick feels this style of event is especially fitting because it was the type of party that the late Wyman Dickerson – a major longtime ambassador for the community college foundation – loved to throw in the Mother Lode.

“Wyman was a well-traveled person, but he understood that a lot of people in Amador don’t always get the chance to travel, so he always wanted these events to take them to another place,” Hartwick said. “Wyman wanted everyone attending to feel completely immersed in another culture for the entire evening.”

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