By: Sherry Barkas, July 10, 2018
“In granting ‘bucket list’ wishes to seniors, this nonprofit is taking them ‘from darkness to light’”
All her life, Anita Saavedra-Durnil has dreamed of flying in the Goodyear Blimp.
“I have always, always, always wanted to ride in the blimp,” said the 69-year-old Yucca Valley resident.
On Monday, that dream finally came true with the help of My Jump, a local nonprofit started eight years ago by Webb Weiman of La Quinta to help seniors fulfill their “bucket lists.”
“I tried myself to do this, but was told no, they don’t have seats available to the public,” Saavedra-Durnil said. “I am very blessed.”
Inside the craft, it was quiet and spacious, she said, and easy to see out the windows as they cruised for about 45 minutes over the ocean, around the Aquarium of the Pacific, The Queen Mary and the breakers, she said.
“It lands like a helicopter and takes off like an airplane,” Saavedra-Durnil said Tuesday. “It was a beautiful day. I
still can’t believe I got to do it.”
The flight aboard the Wingfoot Two out of Long Beach Airport, was three years in the making, Weiman said.
The Wingfoot Two is one of Goodyear’s newest blimps. Based in Carson, the aircraft is 246 feet long with a top speed of 75 mph. It is powered by three vectoring engines and capable of holding nearly 300,000 cubic feet of helium – the equivalent of more than 25 million baseballs, according to data on its website.
Flights tend to hover at 1,000 to 1,500 feet elevation. Saavedra-Durnil, her daughter Christina Varney, and Weiman were among five passengers on board, Weiman said. Lift-off and flight “were smooth as silk,” he said. “It was truly off the charts.”
One reason it took so long to schedule the flight was the blimp was being repositioned from Ohio to Southern California, following the retirement of the Goodyear Blimp called the Spirit of Innovation, Weiman said.
The idea for My Jump was sparked by his parents. His mother and father were both active until her death from cancer, Weiman said.
His father sank into a depression and isolated himself in his bedroom where he would sit in a chair and just rock, one day telling his son, “he had no reason to live,” Weiman said. “I knew I had to do something.”
So, he “stole” his mother’s address book from his sisters and started calling her friends and arranging dates for his father with those who were single.
His father ultimately married one – a union that lasted more than 20 years before he died at age 83 from complications due to Parkinson’s disease.
“He had a new lease on life,” Weiman said.
It inspired Weiman to form a nonprofit with a mission to help seniors live their “bucket list” dreams – and he has since helped people from all over the country realize their dreams. His first client was Estelle Eisenberg, then a Sun City Palm Desert resident, who wanted to go skydiving on her 90th birthday.
“My wife, Kimberly Lee, is a local estate planning attorney in Indian Wells. Estelle asked Kimberly to come speak at her senior living community, and that’s where the introduction was made,” Weiman said.
Her desire to jump from an airplane and his “jumping” out of a 24-year career in TV production – which included work on such award-winning shows as “Project Runway” – to a new career forming and running a nonprofit inspired the company name, “My Jump,” Weiman said.
Since then, My Jump has granted the wishes of seniors from 62 to 99 years old, wanting to drive an 18-wheeler; ride a purple Harley-Davidson; get behind the wheel of a race car; parasail and skydive. Weiman has even made it possible for Southern California resident Mariano Altieri, 79, who is legally blind, to drive a car – by lining up a driver training instructor, a car and the use of a church parking lot.
He travels around, visiting senior centers and communities making presentations about My Jump and
encouraging those attending to submit their wishes.
“I probably get 10 to 15 ideas,” following each presentation, Weiman said.
Unfortunately, Weiman said, My Jump cannot grant every wish – including some of the more unique, such as one woman who wanted him to get her high on marijuana for the first time.
Each “bucket list” request is brought before the four-member board of directors and weighed with a variety of factors, including the ability to make it happen, what is most cost effective and least expensive in terms of health and liability issues, he said.
“A blind woman in Brooklyn, New York, wants to learn to play the violin and we are doing our best to make that happen,” Weiman said.
Locally, My Jump is waiting for the right weather to gift a Coachella Valley man his “bucket list” wish of flying in a vintage biplane.
On average, each adventure costs $2,500 to $3,500, which comes through donations, fundraisers and grants.
“Recipients pay for nothing,” Weiman said. “You can’t really put a price on helping someone move from the darkness into the light.”
Weiman has been invited by Jewish Family Service of the Desert to speak at its “Let’s Do Lunch” program for seniors.
“One of the first (local senior) communities where I spoke was Park David Apartments in Cathedral City,” Weiman said.
In the audience were neighbors Sharon Hancock and Saavedra-Durnil.
“Sharon wanted to go up in a hot-air balloon and Anita wanted to go up in the Goodyear Blimp,” Weiman said. “About three weeks ago, we made Sharon’s dream come true and even raised the bar by bringing her grandson Avery with her.”
On Monday, it was Saavedra-Durnil’s turn to fulfill her bucket list wish and lifelong dream.
“Mom had a stroke when she was 50,” her daughter, Varney said, and has lived every day since as if it was a second chance at life.
Saavedra-Durnil went back to college and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration to help in managing a 5-acre horse ranch in Temecula she owned before moving to the Park David Apartments in Cathedral City. For many years, she was also a substitute teacher in the valley.
Recently, she relocated to Yucca Valley to be closer to Varney who lives in Joshua Tree.
In talking about his ability to make dreams come true, Weiman gets as excited as the people he is helping.
And, every adventure brings renewed enthusiasm and becomes his favorite when he sees the glee it brings his clients.
In October 2017, he got a call from Tempe, Ariz., resident Mary Bartley’s daughter-in-law wanting to fulfill Bartley’s dream of riding a purple Harley as a surprise on her 90th birthday. She was accompanied on the ride by a group of bikers for whom the day was equally memorable, as most turned out for her funeral when she died in March, Weiman said.
“What I thought I was creating in terms of filling bucket lists became part of this woman’s … legacy,” Weiman said. “So, we do bring something new and unexpected to people’s lives.”
To make a bucket list request or donate, visit MyJump.org, email Weiman at email@example.com or call (760)851-5186