“I’m flying! So cool! As I move the yoke gently, the plane slips right or left; or it soars. I can do it all myself. Everyone has always told me I can’t do anything, but I can fly! Mom and Sis are in back laughing and chattering, but I am flying!”
Those are the thoughts of a typical kid enjoying a day out with Challenge Air for Kids.
You see, she is a special needs kid and everyone knows they can have a lot of limitations, don’t they? Juliet Siddons, event program director and one of two paid employees, explained the program to the Rotary Club.
Challenge Air for Kids coordinates local airports so that local pilots and volunteers let local special needs kids sit in the co-pilot seat and when the plane is in the air they take over. They actually fly and realize they can do it. After a life of limitation, how exciting and enabling must that be?
Everything is donated. A hangar is provided and hot dogs and hamburgers are cooked up. Often there are 25 volunteer pilots, about 125 children and about 200 volunteers. The volunteers are divided into teams and each is assigned to one pilot. They meet the family, get to know them then escort them to the plane. The child, who is between 7 and 21 years old, takes the co-pilot seat. If there are other seats in the back of the plane, family members can fill them. When the plane is off the ground at a safe altitude, the pilot lets the kid take over. Of course, there is instruction, and of course, there are safety measures.
Each flight lasts about 20 to 25 minutes and it’s all about the miracle. Pictures showed boys and girls with smiles almost too wide for their faces. They get tremendous confidence from the event. After they have landed and taxied to the tarmac, the pilot presents a Certificate of Challenge Air Pilot. Then he unpins the wings from his own shirt and pins them on the new pilot. Probably often a tear-jerker.
Challenge Air began in 1993 by Rick Amber, a Prestonwood Rotarian and wheelchair bound Vietnam vet. Since there are only two employees, local volunteers organize everything with some guidance. Any town with a tower at the airport can apply.
In their words, “By eliminating the belief that they are limited, the children can grow to their full potential. They are given the opportunity to find courage within themselves and build in areas where they lack self-esteem. Challenge Air provides an unforgettable growing experience that opens the door to possibilities while allowing the children to see that if they can fly a plane they can do anything.”
For more information, visit their website at www.challengeair.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the Rotary Club of Waxahachie, where we believe in Service Above Self and doing things as a club we cannot do alone, visit the club website at www.waxahachierotary.org . You can find American flag subscription forms there. Cow Creek Country Classic bike ride information will be there soon. The bike ride will be June 25.