Monday, February 6, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 49

Santa Maria Sun / Spotlight

The following article was posted on March 31st, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 5 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 5

Leadership Santa Maria Valley class unveils mobile observatory, children's bedtime story as legacy projects for community

By Malea Martin

Local residents will be able to access a new mobile observatory and have the opportunity to purchase a Santa Maria-themed children’s bedtime story, thanks to a collaborative project between Leadership Santa Maria Valley class of 2020 and the city Recreation and Parks Department.

The mobile observatory, which was unveiled March 20, is part of the final legacy project that each Leadership Santa Maria Valley graduating class creates at the end of the nearly year-long program, 2020 class member Emily Kitts told the Sun. The goal is to create something that gives back to the community.

Part of Leadership Santa Maria Valley class of 2020’s legacy project is a children’s book illustrated by local students.

The idea for an observatory was the brainchild of Steve Williams, another Leadership class member who works at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

“He does a lot of satellite-related things, and he’s part of the local astronomy group,” Kitts said. “They’ve been doing regular stargazing events at Los Flores Ranch Park in the last couple of years.” 

Williams pitched the idea of a mobile observatory to his fellow class members: something that could be stationed at Los Flores Ranch Park, but also moved around the city as community events begin to resume in a post-pandemic world.

“I think a lot of people don’t necessarily get a chance to look through a telescope very often in their lives, especially a lot of kids—it’s just not a resource that everybody has,” Kitts said. “I was fully on board, and the rest of the class was pretty excited about it too.”

The idea came at the perfect time, as the city Recreation and Parks Department had just received a grant for a nature center trailer.

“Their whole idea was to create this mobile nature center out of this trailer, but then when we proposed the idea of an observatory to them, they said, ‘We’ll just get a slightly bigger trailer,’ and let our class have the back portion of it, and we put our telescope observatory equipment in there,” Kitts said.

But the Leadership class members didn’t stop at one ambitious project; going along with the night sky theme, they also decided to write a bilingual children’s book about the Santa Maria Valley called Strawberry Moon Says, Goodnight. The book features illustrations by students across the Santa Maria Valley.

“It’s from the perspective of the moon looking down over the community, over the valley, saying good night to all the little things in our area,” Kitts said. “The June full moon is called a Strawberry Moon.”

The class members already printed a first run of about 1,000 books in December.

“We had local kids do all the art portraits, illustrated by local students, and we had a little outdoor art show for them when we published the first run of books,” Kitts said. “We’ve got a second run of books going right now, so we’ll have a bunch of them, 1,000 books, out to the community hopefully in about a month.”

The Leadership class members wrote the rhyming lines that appear on each page in both English and Spanish, alongside the students’ illustrations. The first page reads, “Strawberry moon is perched low in the sky, / Ready to rest while the day flies by / In the evening, it rises and looks to explore / The Santa Maria Valley and so much more!” These lines accompany a drawing by 10-year-old Sophia Barriga, whose detailed work depicts a strawberry moon looking over a church, farmland with grazing cows, a train, and a Vandenberg rocket. 

In the spirit of giving back to the community, the class members had the book copyrighted, and they plan to transfer the copyright over to United Way of Santa Barbara County.

“So if they want to do future runs, they can,” Kitts explained. “Then they are going to receive all of the books that are being printed right now, and they get to sell them. All the proceeds will go to their literacy programs in our specific ZIP codes.”

As for the now-unveiled mobile observatory, Kitts is hopeful that as COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen, it will be available for public use in the near future.

“In previous years, Los Flores Ranch Park was doing stargazing nights with the local astronomy club, at least five events a year,” Kitts said. “Once we’re able to not distance so much anymore, those will start up again, so the observatory should be out for all of those. Then hopefully if we get back into other stuff like Downtown Fridays and street fairs, the observatory can make it out to those too for the public.” 


• The Santa Maria Public Library is celebrating National Library Week virtually this year with a Zoom video conference presentation at 2 p.m. on April 7. Staff will guide participants through a recycled-book craft, and the library has a limited number of activity kits available for those interested. The kits include a recycled book, a bookmark to color, a book to enjoy, and a list of library services. The program is open to adults 18 and older, and the kits are available for pickup until April 3. Patrons can register at

Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send tips to

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