Teamwork of the voluntary kind

There is a new compass rose plastered on the ramp outside my office window this morning. It’s roughly 50 feet in diameter, and at its center is an interlocking pair of 9s – representing the logo of the International Organization of Women Pilots. The 99s.

How this compass rose came to be on the ramp is a classic example of how individual people, acting cooperatively, can make a positive difference in their community. There were no loud arguments, no boisterous meetings, no fretting over funding or manpower or permits. There was just a small group of civic-minded folks who shared a focus on getting the job done. And so it was. So it is. So it will be.

The old compass rose is on the south side of Gilbert Field in Winter Haven, Florida, where the FBO used to be located. But times change, construction projects happen, and the FBO moved to the north side of the field roughly five years ago. The old compass rose stayed put. Faded as it was from many years in the Florida sun, the locals agreed it was time for some sprucing up.

This is where things can get tricky.

Whenever there are options to be considered, factions can result. Some may want to repaint over the old compass rose. Others may want to move it. Of the fans who want to paint-over, some think it would be perfectly fine to stick with the same design, while another group would like to see something new and different. A few folks may want to go with the same colors, while another group wants to use the colors of the local high school. Still another group wants to go with the colors of the local college, and of course at least a couple people have an entirely different idea altogether.

You can go back and forth forever and never get anywhere. Or you can get your team motivated and really accomplish something. Thankfully, the troops in Winter Haven chose the latter.

EAA 229, which had a hand in painting the old compass rose, kicked in the funds to purchase the 15 gallons of paint required for the project. The 99s came along with a great design, as well as the promise of helping hands on the big day. The airport director was consulted, consented, and began discussions on where the rose would be placed and what it might look like. And so it came to be that a CFI taking a break between flights picked the spot for the new compass rose. As a cluster of managers stood about on the ramp pointing and gesturing and advocating for the place they felt would be most appropriate, the CFI said, “Why not put it right here, in front of the restaurant and the FBO? This is where the most people will be able to see it.”

Five minutes after that comment was made, plans were underway. Two days later, as the sun rose on a Saturday morning, measurements were taken, chalk lines were snapped, paint brushes were issued to motivated helpers, and paint rollers were screwed onto poles.

The youngest volunteer was 14 years old. The oldest…well, I’m too polite to go there. There were plenty of helping hands involved, though.

The airport director was on her knees cutting in the first coat of white paint on the “E” that would signify, “East” on the finished compass rose. There were CFIs, IAs, a DPE, and even a surgeon crawling around on the ramp. Each amateur painter tugging a small container of paint behind them, and waving a brush in the air, careful not to drip white paint where blue should go, or blue where the white should go.

Both locals and visitors got dirty on this job. For some, home was just across the airport, for others, their homes were in foreign lands. It made no difference. If you’re welcomed into the fold, you help. And if you help, you’re always welcome.

A funny thing happens when you get a group of volunteers working on a project together. They start to smile and chat with each other. Even people who have never met and may never meet again begin to become chummy. Someone sits in wet paint, and everybody laughs about it – even the person with the newly redesigned pants gets a chuckle out of the moment. Someone else makes a color placement mistake, and the shout goes up from the rest of the volunteers, “That’s okay, you’ll never see it from 1,000 feet.”

The owner of the restaurant knew something was up when he saw an unnaturally large number of people milling about on the ramp. By the time the first half of the paint had been laid down, he sauntered out to talk to the volunteer management team to get a briefing on what was happening. He was impressed with the project. Impressed enough to offer to knock half-off on lunch for anyone with paint on them. The airport director, who appreciates teamwork and cooperation as much as anyone I’ve ever met, offered to kick in the other half. That spontaneous partnership led to a much appreciated and completely unanticipated free lunch for the crew.

Well before sunset, the project was done.

On Monday morning everyone was back home, or at work. They all went back to their lives. But they went with a feeling of accomplishment, with new friendships formed, and maybe with a little bounce in their step as they remembered the memory of how they contributed to a cause and saw the project through to the end.

If you find yourself in central Florida for SUN ’n FUN, or anything else, why not stop by Winter Haven’s Gilbert Field and see what a gathering of volunteers can do in a day? It’s big, blue, and white and stuck down good and proper on the ramp just beyond the restaurant’s porch. It’s the new compass rose at KGIF. You can’t miss it.


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