When life gave 11-year-old Ona Fechtig-King lemons, he chose to make lemonade.
Ona was one of several kids who participated in Saturday's North Coast Lemonade Day, an event organized by the Arcata Economic Development Corporation, explained Program Director Susan Seaman.
Seaman estimated there were roughly 100 stands in the five participating North Coast regions -- Ferndale, Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna and Northern Humboldt, which included McKinleyville. According to Seaman, the day was designed to provide youth of all ages firsthand experience in developing a business plan, establishing a budget and giving back to the community.
For Ona, however, the day was more than just a learning experience. In many ways, it was about the community giving back to him.
A little under three months ago, Ona's stepfather died unexpectedly. Shortly after, the family farm in Susanville burnt down. Ona now lives with his godmother, Caroline Haug -- who has three adult sons of her own -- in McKinleyville. His mother, Kim Fechtig-King, is still in Susanville, but Haug believes she will be back next week.
”My dad was pretty nice; he took care of me all the time,” said Ona as he used a pair of clear plastic tongs to drop ice into one of his cups of lemonade, which sold for 75 cents each. “It's lonely without him.”
Haug has helped Ona adjust to life without his stepfather, who had been a part of Ona's family since he was 2 years old.
”He had the money for the lemons saved up, but we offered to buy back anything he doesn't use,” she said. By Ona's own estimation, they squeezed 102 lemons in preparation for the big day.
”I have been texting everyone in McKinleyville, getting them to come by,” said Haug, who sat next to Ona in front of the camper trailer they had parked outside of Cap'n Zach's Crab House in McKinleyville on Saturday. “Everyone has been so unbelievably giving and supportive of Ona.”
According to Haug, one woman drove around all of McKinleyville trying to find Ona's stand. “She saw the signs and was so happy when she finally made it,” said Haug.
When Ona first came to live with Haug, all she bought him were a pair of shoes and a T-shirt. “He lost everything in the fire, but the community -- especially the nurses at Saint Joseph's -- they bought him a lot of clothes,” said Haug. “We didn't even need to get anything.”
According to Ona -- a serious boy with red hair and a spattering of freckles across his face -- his old bedroom in Susanville was bigger, but he likes living with his godmother more. “My new friends (in McKinleyville) are different, way better,” he explained. “They always make sure I stay out of trouble.”
By noon, Ona had only a few customers, but he wasn't worried. “We are doing pretty well,” he said, adding that later in the day one of Haug's sons, Michael, was supposed to bring the entire McKinleyville High School football team by to try the lemonade.
Ona loves football and wants to play when he is older. He also loves his hamsters, Winky and Lulu. He cracked a rare grin as he explained that Winky used to be named Shannon, but Ona changed the name after the hamster lost an eye.
When asked what he planned to spend his profits on, Ona's face lit up. “I am donating 10 percent to the (Humboldt County) animal shelter,” he said. “The rest I want to spend on a hamster cage, and any left over I want to save for college.”
Ona hopes that when his mom comes back they won't have to move too far away from his godmother's house. “I want to move to a house right next door and play football forever,” he said as he poured a glass of lemonade and dropped another three quarters into his money box.
Kaci Poor can be contacted at 441-0514 or email@example.com.