This past Saturday the Central Florida Flying Club (of which I am a member) held its first annual Spring Fling cook-out. We threw the hangar door open to anyone who cared to wander through it.
The grill was fired up, the refrigerator was stocked, we rented additional tables and chairs, and even rolled the aircraft out on to the ramp to make room for the throngs we hoped to see coming through the airport gate. We were not disappointed.
There were hot dogs and burgers and sodas and plenty of good cheer. As planned, we raffled off four good-sized tin buckets of goodies. One was movie related, one focused on wine and cheese, another was a coffee lovers dream, and the fourth was filled with aviation oriented tools and gadgets. Our members contributed to each bucket, creating an impressive array of prize potential for our visitors to lust over.
In the process of raffling off these buckets of fun, we raised $220 for our newly founded scholarship program.
Our goals are modest, to support one individual a year who might not be able to earn their private pilot certificate without some outside assistance.
We’ve still got a ways to go, but thankfully our dreams of fostering a new generation of pilots is happening…or at least the plan is off the page and into the hangar as a real, tangible wad of cash that’s growing and has been given a specific purpose.
Here’s where reality collides with dream-time and causes those of us with fiduciary responsibilities to make sure we’re doing the right thing, the right way. Simply gathering an armful of cash and throwing it in the general direction of someone who needs help doesn’t really work. Untold numbers of lottery winners can attest to that.
If the money comes too easy, and without any real oversight, it tends to go quickly, leaving nothing but heartache and hard feelings in its wake.
SUN ‘n FUN’s President John “Lites” Leenhouts knows this pattern all too well. His organization administers a tremendously successful scholarship program initiated by James C. Ray, who also funded the building of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy on the grounds at SUN ‘n FUN.
Knowing that no amount of money can assure a program’s success, and that a lack of oversight can fast-track the best of intentions into the gutter, Leenhouts and his crew have fostered a large and growing number of young men and women into an aeronautical mind-set that is changing lives.
“We should be at 50 within the next month,” Leenhouts says.
He’s referring to the number of private pilots the scholarship program has impacted directly.
“Our goal is to train two private pilot applicants a month, 24 a year.”
That’s ambitious thinking, but Leenhouts isn’t working alone, or in a vacuum. He’s part of a growing crew that’s learned their lessons through hard work and a dedication to flexibility when the situation warrants it. They’ve learned from mistakes, whether their own or those made by others, and they’re improving on their program every year.
As for the students who receive funding from the scholarship program, Leenhouts says they “become young adults and leave their childhood behind.”
In short, they aren’t simply given a stack of cash and encouraged to fly. Rather, they’re brought into a system that supports them, encourages them, and exposes them to opportunities that can lead to a successful outcome.
“They become an inspiration to their peer group,” Leenhouts says.
It’s that sort of planning and execution that makes the scholarship program such a success when so many others have failed to achieve their intended goals.
One lesson learned early was the need to establish a method of identifying good applicants. Not everyone who is willing to learn to fly really wants to learn to fly. And not all of those who would apply have the necessary support at home that would allow a high school student to excel in a challenging environment for extracurricular activities. Not surprisingly, Lites readily admits, “One of the keys to success is parental involvement.”
On the other side of the coin, staffing the program with people who have a clear mission and the resources to complete their work is important.
“We actually have a master pilot who tracks each student and their progress through the flight training program,” Leenhouts explains.
By closely monitoring both the student and the entity providing the instruction, the program keeps a close eye on how its dollars are spent, and has the opportunity to intervene early if it appears the student is not coming along as they should.
“We put standards in place to validate progress,” he notes.
Knowing all this, I’m more fired up than ever to complete our funding campaign and get the Central Florida Flying Club scholarship up and running full steam ahead. There are resources out there that will help us establish a good, solid program that can be truly successful. Best of all, those resources are available to flying clubs, EAA chapters, airplane partnerships, and pilot associations from coast to coast.
Can you imagine what might happen if we all contributed to a well organized, proven scholarship model that would allow young people to get into an airplane and earn a pilot’s certificate, even if they don’t personally possess the means to fly? The impact on our industry would be astounding.
My flying club is planning on producing one new pilot a year. SUN ‘n FUN is setting its annual goal at 24. What might you and your network of friends be able to do if you put your minds to it?