For the first time in its 19-year history, Transportation Day at God’s Garden Preschool on Liberty Lane in Ahwatukee is being held at the beginning of February rather than at its end.
Organizers say they wanted to avoid a conflict with local Little League Opening Day activities and various dance school competitions.
They also hope the change will help increase attendance at the four-hour event – which annually tops 3,000 people who come to view nearly 50 varied vehicles available to children and their families.
They’re quick to express their gratitude to South Mountain Freeway developers Connect202Partners for finally finishing the water main relocation on Liberty Lane.
But organizers advise people who plan to attend to use free shuttles that will be provided at the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA and Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School.
Another change this year is the later arrival of the Air Evac Services’ yellow and black helicopter at God’s Garden Preschool, located on the campus of Horizon Presbyterian Church, 1401 E. Liberty Lane.
This year the landing of the Air Bus AS-350 – which normally heralded the 9 a.m. opening of the event – is scheduled to set down at 9:30 a.m.
Along with the pilot, nurse and medic will be a passenger who has been a part of the chopper’s arrival and departure for 11 years.
Sam Cotharin, a 15-year-old former God’s Garden Preschool student will be on board, continuing a tradition that started when he was an Estrella Elementary kindergartner flying with his father, Tom Cotharin, who piloted the bird for many years.
It was a youngster’s exceptional experience, and now a cherished memory, that set Sam, now a Desert Vista High School sophomore, on a career path.
“When I first flew in a helicopter, I remember I was a little nervous and had butterflies in my stomach, but once I was in the air it was a lot better. And then when I landed, I wanted to go again and again,” said Sam. “I remember how happy and excited I was when I saw the helicopter land and take off, and I very much still do.”
He has determined his future is in aviation, and specifically helicopters. Beginning next year, he will begin a two-year program at the East Valley Institute of Technology that, when successfully completed, will earn him a helicopter pilot’s license along with his Desert Vista diploma.
So immersed is he in piloting helicopters that he installed a flight simulator in his bedroom. After building his own computer, he added the simulator program. A Christmas gift from his parents provided the control stick and pedals.
“Yes, I do have a flight simulator in my room, which is where I spend most of my time. My career of choice or dream career would to be a helicopter pilot on the air medical side just like my dad,” he said, adding:
“The other career would be to join the Navy and do the Naval Officer Cadet School, and go fly their helicopters for them. But yes, my career vision would definitely be a helicopter pilot.”
This is the 11th year Air Evac has sent a helicopter to Transportation Day, said his father.
“We love doing this,” said Cotharin, who with his wife, Judy, and older son, Ben, a Desert Vista senior, are long-time Ahwatukee residents. “It’s our way of showing our appreciation to our community.”
Transportation Day has from its 2000 inception been a huge hit with children and their families.
Not only do they get to see transportation vehicles like Kyrene School buses, Phoenix Police Department cars and their SWAT truck, city fire trucks, classic cars, Phoenix city buses, construction vehicles and the helicopter, but they get to go in and on them, trying their wee hands at the wheel or controls, and, as all children must, pretend they are flying or driving.
“The children can climb and explore all of the vehicles in exception to a few of the classic cars,” said 2019 Transportation Day committee chairperson Taylor Ake, who has two children in God’s Garden Preschool.
“We love God’s Garden and drive 25 miles every day to be a part of this preschool,” said Ake. She credited the other parents, many new, who joined her committee to ensure this year’s Transportation Day event was better than ever.
“It’s pretty much the same but beefed up,” she said. “We have 10 dedicated people on our committee this year, many of them new, and they’ve done an amazing job.”
The four hours of activities are free other than the popular and expanded Fun Zone that, for a small fee, offers pony rides, train rides, bouncy houses and more.
Other activities for children and their parents include face painting, food trucks, live music and area business vendors supporting the event with booths.
While the children enjoy the vehicles, often sounding the horns to provide a joyful if near-deafening cacophony, parents and other adults often take refuge in the church’s community room where scores of raffle gift baskets are available to peruse and bid on.
As in years past, these baskets contain coveted treasures like get-away resort weekends, vacation homes, bicycles and other large toys, local restaurant gift certificates, electronics, sports memorabilia and tickets to area sporting events.
With Transportation Day being a rain or shine event, the community room is a popular spot.
“This year we’re also doing a 50/50 raffle, and with more than 3,000 attendees, that could be a huge pot,” said Ake. “We’ll also be raffling off two half-year (God’s Garden) tuition waivers for new or existing God’s Garden students. For five months, that’s about a $1,500 to $2,000 waver.”
With typical attendance at Transportation Day hovering around 3,000 or more, parking in this single-family-home neighborhood has always been an issue.
In recent years, organizers joined with the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA and Kyrene Schools to offer alternatives. This year is no exception. Buses will ferry attendees from the parking lots of the Y, located at 1030 E. Liberty Lane, and Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School, 1122 E. Liberty Lane.
“Buses will drop off and pick up just past the east entrance of the event,” said God’s Garden Preschool assistant director Sara Stecyk, who shares the position with Denise Tobin. Michelle Rhodes is the preschool director.
“And even though there is construction now, we’ve been assured that both directions on Liberty Lane will be open to travel,” she stated.