A Life-Changing Experience

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I want to tell you a little story to warm your heart…

Behind the yoke of his private aircraft sat the pilot – cool, confident, smiling. He had every reason to grin because on this day he had the best co-pilot in the whole entire world, a bright-eyed, eight-year old boy who sat smiling broadly as the world soared by 5,000 feet below.

It was hard to believe that this was the same little boy that, only half an hour earlier, was terror stricken as he walked timidly down the red carpet amidst the raucous cheering of onlookers toward the plane – on the way to embark on his very first flight. Now, as he sat in the cockpit with his little hands gripping the yoke, staring out at the amazing world beyond the propeller, he suddenly broke out into a sweet song. A song. One with words.

The moment was immediately interrupted, however. Suddenly, his mother, who was in the back seat of the aircraft, began to gasp for breath, clutching at her heart, flailing, unable to speak. She was obviously having a heart attack. The pilot quickly called a medical emergency in to the tower, gained clearance, and headed to the airport stat. He brought the aircraft smoothly down and taxied to the tarmac where the EMS and medical personal were waiting with their equipment.

They rushed immediately to the aid of the struggling woman, removing her from the plane and began life-preserving measures. They administered oxygen and worked diligently to stabilize her vitals. As she recovered, however, a completely unexpected trigger for her episode emerged – her child’s song.

She wasn’t having a heart attack; she was having a joy attack.

You see, that particular flight was in conjunction with ChallengeAir for Kids, an event that gifts special needs and disabled children with free flight. The little co-pilot in question was highly autistic – in fact, he was completely nonverbal. In the eight years of his life, that tired but dedicated momma had never, not once, heard the sound of her little boy’s voice. For eight long years she had loved him selflessly, cared for him ceaselessly, protected him fiercely, and worked her heart out for him tirelessly…all without the reward of a single ‘I love you’.

Oh, the things we take for granted, right?

But on this beautiful day, something about the rocking motion of the airplane, the weightlessness of flying, the white noise of the propeller, the beauty of the world from above…it broke through that little boy’s mental barriers and impenetrable walls, and he sang. Not just humming or random noise, a song with words. And his mom, hearing his voice for the first time in her entire life, well…she had a physical reaction that resembled a heart attack – one that was triggered by sheer and utter joy! Can you imagine being in her shoes? Just, wow!

This, my friends, is ChallengeAir!

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A proud co-pilot who just got his wings!

Year after year, my husband and I continue to volunteer countless hours of our lives to this annual event. Our only payment is the look of happiness on the faces of hundreds of kids, the exuberant hugs, the kisses of gratitude, and the endless, incredible stories just like this one that bring us to our knees. Time and time again, it breaks us!

It is, perhaps, one of the most life changing days that each of the children we fly ever experience. They are told ‘no’ or ‘you can’t’ or ‘you are too broken’ over and over again throughout the course of their lives. We show them that, YES, you can! You are not disabled, you are enabled!

I wish I could tell you the stories that we see every year, but that would take all night. Here’s a video of my husband describing the event last year:

It’s not just the kids that are forever changed either. Their families have this amazing day where they are treated like they are normal. You have NO idea how rare that is for some of them! Our volunteers and staff interact with the families and children without reserve and with absolute compassion and tenderness. We provide free food, free crafts, free entertainment, free love, and lots of free hugs and laughs. All they have to do is show up and have a great time. And best of all, they get to see their children accomplish something that the world says they never could…flying an airplane! Their kiddos earn their wings, gain their confidence, and show the world they are more than a label! The parents leave with renewed hope and new perspective about what their children can accomplish!

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Three Pilot Wives volunteering together at ChallengeAir!

And the volunteers? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason the same bunch of us (as in about 100 individuals) return over and over and over (and over) to this event. Because it is, hands down, the best day of our entire year.

The Conroe 2018 ‘Fly Day’ is scheduled for November 3rd, only three months away! My husband is event chairman, as he has been for the previous three years (we’ve been volunteering for five…or is that six?). I am the event Gopher (Go-Fer this, Go-Fer that…LOL!). I am not going to lie. The months leading up to Fly Day are absolutely, completely, incomparably exhausting for us. But…oh, that day of immeasurable joy. It makes up for every lost wink of sleep.

Did I mention that we do it ALL for absolutely no charge to the families! They just come, have the best day of their lives, and don’t have to worry about the cost…because a family with a special needs child already has enough expenses and stress. We don’t want anyone to be excluded due to financial reasons!

I truly cannot imagine our lives without ChallengeAir. I cannot imagine denying these amazing children and their beautiful families this opportunity to be more than just a label that society has slapped on them. I cannot imagine being another ‘no’ in their endless portfolio.

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Our amazing pilot, Drew, showing our co-pilot, Jacoby, and his family how to do their preflight!

I cannot imagine that mom never having heard the sound of her child’s voice because that day did not occur.

Unfortunately, however, that’s exactly where we are right now. Fly Day is on the precipice of not happening this year. My heart hurts to think about it, but it’s the painful truth. Sadly, the support in our community is very difficult to come by, and we are sorely underfunded. If we do not come up with the money to take care of the event in short order, our options are very limited – as in, we will be permanently grounded. The costs associated with the event go predominantly to providing insurance for the day (as you can imagine, special needs children and planes create an insurance…shall we say…hurdle) as well as some other items such as the shirts and wings that we provide for our co-pilots. It actually only costs 15K to put on an event, which is incredibly low, but we struggle to meet the mark.

My husband and I are heavily burdened by the thought of cancelling the event this year and letting down the hundred children that are already signed up to fly, but we have tried everything we can think of to make it happen. It’s been like beating our heads on one brick wall after another. It’s exhausting and painful. It’s hard for me to understand how this event is not easily funded…I mean, special needs children and airplanes – the gift of hope and free flight. It really doesn’t get any better than that!

Yet, everything we have tried in order to make this happen has failed. As I pondered that heavy thought, I realized…

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Co-Pilot Owen surprises Pilot Steve with an impromptu kiss for a flight well done. This is the very best kind of reward and why we do it!

Maybe not everything. Perhaps there are members of my own aviation family out there who have a heart for planes and special needs children who might be interested in Doing a Good Turn. 

Why not!?

So I am humbly sharing this story with you and asking, with no expectations but a glimmer of hope, if any of you would consider sponsoring a child on an individual basis or as a business. We are a 501c3, so your gifts are a tax deductible donation to the full extent of the law. As a business, you will also get your names on our banners, shirts, and social media.

Oh…and you get the love of some pretty amazing kids. And my gratitude…but what’s that in comparison to those sweet hugs?

If you are a business owner and want to be an event sponsor, contact me personally at angelia@thepilotwifelife.com and I will set you up with my husband to chat and make it happen! It’s a great way to get your business seen…and make a tax write off while doing something pretty amazing. In case you are wondering, I am fully invested in this with my business as well. I am putting my mouth where my money and heart are.

If you are an individual, you can make a monetary donation of any amount or sponsor the entire flight for a child. It only takes $100 per child to make this event possible. It’s super easy. Just click on the big button below, choose the monetary amount you would like to give, make sure you choose Conroe on ‘would you like to sponsor a specific event’ (this is really important!), and voila! You have changed a life forever. You can even donate in someone else’s honor or set up recurring donations. I’ll be posting lots of pictures and some videos too during the event so you can see the results! You can also go to our Facebook page: ChallengeAir for Kids Conroe to see pictures from previous years.

If you choose to sponsor an entire flight for a child ($100), you will receive a thank you note from one of our sweet co-pilots and will also have the knowledge that you helped a child with special needs gain an experience of a lifetime! 

Okay, so this is my last desperate plea. It only takes 150 flight sponsors or 15 business sponsors to make this event possible.

We believe in this event so much that we dedicate our lives and our own finances to it year after year. We have skin in the game. Shoot, we’d even love to have you come out and see what it is all about. We always need loaders, rampers, pilots, and cheerleaders! Just be warned…it will grip your heart and change you forever. It’s a great way for aviation spouses or groups of PWs to volunteer together! Last year we had a group of ladies from the HAPW group come out and ramp, park cars, and cheer! Let me know, and we will make it happen.

I really don’t want to tell these kids and their families they don’t get to F.L.Y. I want to give them their wings and see them soar beyond their wildest dreams! I want them to know how precious and able they are. I have seen this community do some amazing things. We can do this too; I know we can!

If you feel so led, please click on the link below and do what you can! Every little bit adds up! If you can give $5 or sponsor the whole event, we need you! Even if you can’t give anything, if you could share this post as well as send some thoughts and prayers our way, we would be very, very thankful.

I am so grateful for your consideration as well as for your continued love and support of me and the community we have built here at TPWL, together.

It’s beautiful. YOU are beautiful!

Family, let’s do a good turn!!

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I love you,  aviation family!

Angelia (a fellow Pilot Wife who loves ChallengeAir)

 

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