EAA Chapter 229 bears a strong resemblance to a great many of its peer chapters. The membership is overwhelmingly male and old.
As I sit on the verge of turning 61 years old, it concerns me that I am one of the younger members of the group. Attendance at gatherings is low enough that meetings are only held during the colder weather months when Snowbirds move south to mix in with the natives. Even then, the hangar is never full. If a dozen members show up at the same time, it’s a big deal.
Seven miles away from EAA Chapter 229’s hangar/workshop is the local public high school. Inside that school building sit more than 150 students who are taking an aerospace course that will eventually lead to the completion of their private pilot ground school requirements. Some want to fly, some want to turn wrenches, some want to become engineers who design the aircraft of the future, and some want to do some combination of two or more of those things.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see the irony of the situation. One group wants very much to find new, younger members who might revitalize the organization. The other is made up of young people who seek a means of getting through the chain-link fences, the barbed wire, and the Do Not Enter signs, to begin their careers in aviation.
How, oh how, could these two groups ever find and help each other to achieve their mutually beneficial goals? It seems to be such a monumental task. Who could ever accomplish this nearly impossible feat?
Well, you could. Yes, you. Putting these two groups together in a meaningful way isn’t hard, or expensive, or time consuming. It’s actually remarkably easy.
The chapter has a president and a membership. Any president, or any member, could simply stand up at a meeting and announce the obvious. We want new members and we all know where a slew of potential new members are. They’re wishing they had a reason to get onto the field on a regular basis and we’re sitting here with a nearly empty hangar wishing it was filled with more bodies. Let’s invite them for a visit.
Now seriously, how hard was that?
A telephone call or a personal visit to the school will put you and your chapter in touch with the students you want to attract. Just ask to see the teacher who conducts the aerospace classes, let them know they and their students are welcome to visit on a specific date, and you’re off to the races.
Virtually all of those students have parents, I might add. And at least some of those parents might be pretty darned interested in getting more deeply involved in aviation, as well. Not to mention the teachers and administrators who have been curious for years, but never found the time, the money, or the opportunity to stray onto the airport for a visit.
The reason for that student visit to the airport might be anything. It’s not much different than when you were a young ‘un working up the courage to ask that special someone to spend time with you outside of school. So, you asked them to come to a movie, or a party, or to go on a walk. Whatever works, right?
The same is true here. Invite the students and their parents to a cook-out. For the price of a few dozen hot dogs and hamburgers your chapter or flying club might balloon in size. You could schedule a Young Eagles event that would put high school students into a seat behind a set of controls where their outlook on life can really take a big leap forward. You might even find the opportunity to take a mom or dad along for a quick hop, too.
This is where the magic happens. With groups of aviation enthusiasts stepping onto the field for the first time, sitting in airplanes for the first time, meeting local pilots and mechanics and administrators for the first time, they suddenly see that the airport holds a place for them, too. Whatever their interest, they’re going to find a place on the field that will get them closer to actually doing what they’ve been daydreaming about. And that’s an important realization.
In our case, I’m working with the students and their teacher, along with some volunteer talent in town, to create a flying club designed to serve those students and their mentors. It will be a 501(c)(3) flying club, which will allow the group to solicit contributions of cash, parts, kits, aircraft, or whatever else might be useful to them.
By plugging that flying club into a group of experienced EAA chapter members, the mentors are already in place. The workload gets lighter and easier for everyone involved. And the chapter sees its value to the community skyrocket.
There is no downside to this deal. It’s good for the chapter. It’s good for the students. It’s good for the community as a whole.
And now you know most of what you need to know to do this exact thing in your town.
Let me encourage you to actually do this. If your local high school doesn’t have an aerospace program, encourage them to apply to establish one. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) can provide a complete curriculum at no cost to the school system. They may not know about that. Your visit could be a real boon to their educational offerings.
You might also seek out a science teacher at the school and invite them to visit your chapter or flying club or flight school on a weekend or after school one day.
Imagine what a phone call and a sincere invitation might mean to those students, that teacher, and your group at the airport. This could be big. And it all starts with you. Drop me a line if you need some additional pointers. We can do this. All over the United States and beyond. Yes, we really can.