Rolling into a small local airport, you’re almost always guaranteed to see two things… old men and equally old planes. A wave is created every time something outside the norm happens – a pilot has to make more than one go-around, a warbird lands, a pretty lady climbs out of a plane (…triple waves if she’s the pilot).
When the Ninety-Nines descend on an airport for one of our monthly meetings, we tend to generate some ripples. I was ready for more of the same arriving at Norwood Memorial (KOWD) one day back in January. When I got there, however, huge waves were already crashing against the hangar doors, and it certainly wasn’t from us.
There were kids everywhere! People were holding signs. Cheering. Clapping. Smiling. Despite a cold day, there was a definite warmth in the air.
(Photo credit: Martha Oberstein)
Baffled, and intrigued, I stopped an adult to ask if he knew what in the heck all the buzz was about. The gentleman’s named turned out to be Gary, and the event was one being hosted by his charity. He offered to stop by our meeting and tell us about it.
His organization, Above the Clouds, aims to bring hope and happiness to kids facing serious adversary, such as homelessness, disability and terminal illness. They have three programs – Dream Flyers, Cadet Flyers and Discovery Flyers. While all three programs offer kids a much needed escape from their daily struggles, each has their own special purpose.
The Dream Flyers program is a one day event that basically just gives kids something really fun to look forward to – going up in a plane! They are assigned a pilot, showered with attention and fed lots of yummy food. That’s what was going on that day at KOWD.
Discovery Flyers assigns each teenager a volunteer pilot to act as a mentor. The pilot introduces them to aviation and gives them opportunities to fly with them. The kids are invited to periodic field trips and are encouraged to assist on Dream Flight days.
The Cadet Flyers program takes it even further by encouraging teenagers to stay in school by offering incentives. In this program, teens who meet certain obligations can actually learn how to fly and will be brought all the way up to their first solo.
I was so moved by his mission, and by the positive energy I saw outside in the kids, that I immediately tossed my name in the hat as a volunteer.
The first event I attended was held yesterday at Logan International (KBOS). JetBlue kindly offered to give the kids a “behind the scenes” tour of their terminal. This tour included going up in their Operations Tower, touring an Airbus and sitting up in the cockpit, and, over free pizza and drinks in their employee lounge area, hearing from mechanics and pilots who work for JetBlue talk about how they got into aviation, what they like about it and career paths for those interested.
Each child was paired up with a volunteer. I found the girl who looked the most withdrawn and apprehensive, and picked her. It took me a while to shake her personality out, but when I did, I felt privileged. She was a truly beautiful person with a truly incredible smile.
While it was certainly cool touring the tower and exploring the plane, seeing these kids’ faces light up with joy and watching them smile these big, beautiful smiles, was wonderful. It was an honor to spend a day with them.
Major kudos to JetBlue for making this event possible.
Afterwards, I met up with a few of my Ninety-Nines friends for lunch at the Astro Diner Bistro. A great way to conclude a great day.