Some folks are lucky enough to have a dream job. My friend Dianna Hutts Aston has managed to get herself two.

In the children’s literature world, Dianna is known for the several picture books she’s authored, including her Cybils-winning An Egg Is Quiet and the Obama-approved The Moon Over Star.

In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, however, she’s becoming known for her other line of work. Dianna recently founded The Oz Project, a non-profit with a mission to provide disadvantaged children and young adults with “experiences that ignite the imagination and inspire dreams.”

Here’s how she describes that transformation:

In the summer of 2006, a hot air balloon ride in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico changed my life forever. The experience felt like floating in Glenda the Good Witch’s bubble, pure magic. I realized two things in the air that day: There are no real borders in this world. And there are no limits on your dreams, not a single one. If you can dream it, you can do it. It was especially significant to me because I’d become someone who no longer knew what her dreams were. I had food, shelter and education, and a quiet life as a mother and writer in the Texas suburbs. But I was longing for something else. I just didn’t know what it was.

Dianna discussed The Oz Project with me last week via email.


Does your work on The Oz Project complement your work as an author, or tug you in the opposite direction, or both?

Yes. I’m torn all the time, but still the happiest, luckiest person I know. My passion is The Oz Project.

When you’re with these young people on their first balloon ride, how do they react to the experience?

Wonder, awe and joy.

And I get to watch their faces. It’s an unbelievable joy. … Kids in rural villages, orphans, street kids, kids with special needs… all the children no one’s looking at. They’ll remember it forever. One child will follow the balloon and be the Einstein or the O’Keefe or the Churchill who yearns to make a contribution to the world. I remember every single one of them: Lydia, Yvonne, Jorge, Pasqual, Alejandro, so many more. They see a world without boundaries from the realm of the rainbow. Some will follow that balloon. The leaders will raise many up. Some will continue with their lives of no schooling, whipping burros toward the dried grass and dust.

When those first-time balloonists come back to earth — literally, anyway — what happens next for them? Does The Oz Project play an ongoing role in their lives?

The balloon trips are mostly rewards for hard work, for displays of leadership. For instance, Betsy James just conducted the first Teen Writers’ Workshop (it ended yesterday), and we’ll take up the kids who attended. They’re ambitious dreamers with the actions to back it up. There are a group of kids at Jalpa, a village outside of town, who are learning English from volunteers who have identified them as leaders and take time each week to go out and teach. So I’m partnering with existing organizations to give balloon trips. The Teen WW is part of Oz and The San Miguel Writers’ Conference. We’ll get bigger next year. So happy with all of this.

What does the Oz Project need in order to thrive? How can folks outside San Miguel help?

Money is the main thing, and a grant writer. I’ve been blessed with in-kind services, from graphics to web site design to accounting. I have a man who’s going to work with me on grant-writing. A donation of a hot air balloon, a van, a trailer. What I’d really like is for others in the states to take the idea of raising angels and find them in foster care, special needs like blindness and deafness, children’s hospitals, ghettos, isolated rural areas. The focus is on targeting leaders, those who persevere despite their circumstances. These children are waiting to be found so they can contribute their talents to the world. There’s an Einstein, a Picasso, an Eleanor Roosevelt… just waiting.