Achieving lifelong dream in T.O.

Ben Sikorra was born with a rare neurological condition known as juvenile Batten disease, a rare neurological illness that has given him a life of blindness, as well as the loss of motor skills. Unable to do many things that others at his age take for granted, at the age of 21, Sikorra will fulfill a lifelong dream of attending college this year as part of a special effort made by faculty of California Lutheran University.

Sikorra took part in orientation weekend at California Lutheran University from Friday, Aug. 26, to Monday, Aug. 29, after a friend of Ben’s brother John, who passed away in 2015 from the same disease, approached Cal Lutheran officials. After meeting with Assistant Dean Of Students and Director Of Student Life Scott Silverman, and undergoing a simulated admissions interview, Ben was admitted for the year and will attend one or two classes a semester over the 2016/2017 year.

Silverman says that developing a program for Ben was a seven- to eight-month-long process and that he feels honored to have taken part in it.

“He’s such a cool guy with a warm family, it’s really an honor for me to help them in this process,” said Silverman.

Over the weekend, Ben met with faculty and attended freshmen orientation. His father, Joe, says that Ben has “always risen to the challenge” and has “done a lot of great things with his life.”

“He has snow skied, water skied, done all these things blind and with some cognitive and physical impairments,” said Joe. “Ben always maximizes life and is very passionate.”

Joe says that CLU has been very impressive with its response.

“People either respond to challenges like this or they shut down,” said Joe. “They opened the door and reached out to us.”

Ben will attend CLU in a limited fashion; he will take a course in marine biology and act as a hydration specialist for the football team.

“In a few years, I would love for Ben to walk across the stage at graduation,” said Silverman. “Even if it’s symbolic only, for him and his parents … they would absolutely love that.”

Lake Piru given face-lift

The United Water Conservation District has made several improvements to the drought-stricken Lake Piru Recreation Area in a bid to make the lake more appealing to visitors.

Over the past 18 months, the District has improved the swim beach, reopened and repaired restroom facilities that had been shuttered, developed a plan to combat the invasive quagga mussel and uncovered and re-opened a boat launch ramp impacted by historically low lake levels, which has been in disuse for nearly four decades.

In the coming 2016/2017 fiscal year, the District has budgeted $600,000 for maintenance repairs to asphalt and recreational facilities as well as for other improvement projects.

Over this year’s Memorial Day weekend, Lake Piru’s facilities were filled to capacity and officials had to make use of an overflow camping site to accommodate visitors.

“The park is beginning to return to a family environment as a result of our diligent efforts to improve both the facilities and services we offer,” said Senior Park Services Officer Clayton Strahan . “It is a slow process but the holiday weekend was the most successful holiday weekend during my nearly 11 years with the District.”

Though due to the historic drought, lake levels have been reduced by 15 to 20 feet, Strahan says that he is “very confident that we are making positive improvements in both the services and facilities we offer and in changing the atmosphere of our park.”

Ventura College offers new engineering program

Ole Hartmann, 18, had a decision to make: Attend a four year college as many of his peers did, or delve straight into a specialized program. Hartmann, father to a young boy, chose the latter and is now one of 23 students enrolled in Ventura College’s new diesel mechanics program.

The two-year program was established by a $900,000 agreement with Gibbs Truck Centers. Students will utilize a 25,000-square-foot lab at Gibbs, featuring hands-on courses with Gibbs diesel trucks.

Students who complete the program will receive certificates of achievement or associates degrees and knowledge prior to entering into a field that is expected to grow by 7 percent in Ventura County.

For more information on the program, visit www.venturacollege.edu.