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Giving Back, Moving Forward

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A few years ago, the Extreme Makeover guys came to my town and built a new house for a deserving family, and, watching it on TV, the thing that struck me was how much it meant, not to the mom and dad and kids, but to the workers who built the house. A few of them were interviewed on the show, expressing with deep emotion how great it felt to pitch in and help their neighbors, which was touching. But it raised the question, well, what was stopping them from pitching in to help their neighbors before ABC's big bus came to town? Why did this seem to be such a unique, new experience for them?

I was reminded of this by a story in our AVweb news about the folks at Build A Plane. They are sponsoring a project in a little Alaska town, where some high-school kids are restoring a beat-up old Stinson. The whole community has stepped up to encourage these kids, donating time and money and free airplane rides, offering internships and ground-school courses, raising money and providing lots of moral support. I'm sure they all find it immensely rewarding. But it raised the question again, why was all this good will there, just lying dormant, till the Build A Plane project came along to ignite it?

My theory is that people are willing and eager to give, but they need to know that their efforts will produce results. Programs like Build A Plane provide a structure and a track record that promises some likelihood of a positive return on the time and money invested. So, does it take a tall and lanky stranger to ride into town and stir things up, to provoke people to act, to inspire your local aviators to give something back to their community? Or does it just take you?

Comments (7)

Ask anyone who has done a volunteer flight such as Angel Flight how they feel afterwards. It's a win-win. Someone who needs a ride gets it and you get to fly. You rarely get charged a landing fee, most FBOs discount your fuel and even line workers refuse tips. There are several organizations providing free flights for people with medical and compassion needs - Angel Flight, Volunteer Pilots of America, Veterans Airlift Command and even Pilots N Paws for dogs just to name a few.

It's always been a rewarding experience for me. I addition to the humanitarian aspect, it sharpens my skills. All you need is a plane and to meet some minimum flight experience requirements and you can be making a difference. It's a far better way to burn up some avgas than slamming the pattern.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | November 9, 2010 8:05 AM    Report this comment

I'm the EAA Young Eagles Coordinator for our pilots association and also the Treasurer/Secretary of the Association. I cannot get more than about 10 people to attend a regular business meeting, and only a few more to our annual picnic. However, just as quick as an EAA Young Eagles Rally is announced, people start coming out of the woodwork to help, fly, and do anything else that I need. I'm wondering if it's the "kid factor", or the "well, this is what I do to feel good about myself event"?

I'm not complaining, it would just be nice to see more of these people at other events, just not at an EAA Young Eagles Rally, where I'm just too busy with other duties to give more than a "HI" and "THANK YOU" to them.

Posted by: R. Doe | November 9, 2010 8:12 AM    Report this comment

In a highly priced "hobby" like flying, all the good will in the world does not overcome the reality of cost and commitment. The same with home makeovers; there is never a follow-up show 3-5 years later because things will settle back down to their previous level.

I take passengers up all the time to introduce them to flight. Maybe 2 passengers in the last 30 years I've flown have actually perused aviation. The REALITY is that it makes no difference what you do but that people who want to be in Aviation will go into Aviation. The vast majority simply cannot or will not get beyond an introductory stage.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | November 9, 2010 2:33 PM    Report this comment

I'm a Volunteer Community Coordinator and Volunteer Pilot for Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic. I echo Jerry's "win-win" comments. I've been flying 44 years, but only signed up for Angel Flight 3 years ago. It has radically changed my perspective on aviation. I've always been willing to give back but finding the opportunities was the issue. When we come across organizations such as the ones Jerry lists then we have found someone who can take care of matching those in need to those, like us, who have been blessed with the means and ability to serve others. For most of us those organizations open that door of service to us. They all need help, so look around and call on one of them to see where you fit in. It could change your perspective on flying - and your life.

Posted by: Ronald Horton | November 10, 2010 1:14 PM    Report this comment

I have a perfect example of how a volunteer pilot can change someone's life. On any day, you can find people who live on Marthas Vineyard (I'm talking about the modest income year-round residents, not the well-to-do summer visitors) who go from the Vineyard to Hyannis for chemo and radiation treatment for cancer. If they were to do this trip on the ferry, it would be about a 4-6 hour round trip. It's a 15 minute flight. I can pick them up at MVY at 11 and have them back by 1. This means that they can keep working while getting their treatments. They do this every day for 6 to 10 weeks.

There are hundreds such flights throughout the country every day. Pull the baby out of the hanger and do one. You won't be sorry.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | November 11, 2010 8:12 AM    Report this comment

The above posters show I think, Mary, that the answer to your last question is yes. ...Tho Clint's way was a bit bloody and violent, one should plan to try and avoid that part of it.

I think probably the community good will that appeared to be dormant was active all along, just dispensed in smaller, more personal ways than a large material project like the Stinson brought out. Inertia is a real player for the majority of people I have encountered in my life and work. Personal interests and finances too are major inhibitors/players in projects like the plane restoration. But I agree that more and more we look for tangible results nowadays for our efforts than maybe we used to, based on a lot of reasons. The problem lies when we set conditions for the results, and far too many people and groups are doing that nowadays. That can stifle the spirit of the endeavor and affect future opportunities.

Posted by: Dave Miller | November 12, 2010 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Mary, I think its a bit like the rapidly disappearing pastor-and-flock phenomenon - only maybe 1 in 30 to 100 people are self-starters with this kind of thing even though plenty of the rest will get a real kick out of it if shown the way.

*** Deep and meaningful alert ***

I reckon that at different times we all need to be the flames around which others warm their souls. Maybe only once when it really counts or maybe regularly. I bet we all know people for whom its pretty much a lifestyle. I guess I aspire to that but in the mean time I can say that I do know what it feels like to do some of those organised or random acts of kindness. Awesome. I know I should do more and I know I could be one of the ones who show others the way - I just get bogged down by life too much I guess.

Thanks for the article - its made me reflect a lot.

Posted by: john hogan | November 14, 2010 9:42 AM    Report this comment

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