Ah humanity. For those of us committed to growing the pilot population we often scratch our heads and wonder how we can reach the youth, the college-aged kids that might share the dream of aviation. This generation of twenty-somethings is deeply steeped in technology and many times and perhaps in some instances, rightly, gets labeled as a self-centered lot with little frustration tolerance or ability to delay gratification. On first blush, maybe not the best target audience for a future aviation mechanic or pilot.
Philanthropy is a word commonly understood from its root to mean the love of humanity, further defined as work that is meant to advance mankind and quality of life though good works and deeds. Years ago I was approached by a Lambda Chi Alpha member from our local university regarding our annual Friends of Oceano Airport Toys for Tots event.
Founded in the early 1900s, Lambda Chi Alpha was built on the following guiding principles:
- Service & Stewardship
- Personal Courage
Look at these principles and you can’t help but be impressed. These are the same standards that serve us as aviators. Year after year we have 15 to 30 Lambda Chi brothers who donate the first Friday and Saturday of December to Toys for Tots. They come prepared to work, are eager, prompt, communicative, enthusiastic and engaged. The Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo California was established in 1979. Since then the chapter has managed to win their most prestigious award, the Grand High Alpha, a total of 5 times.
How brilliant is this? A fraternity or sorority has requirements for philanthropic work during the year and an airport needs volunteers to help at events. This is a match made in the heavens. Add to the mix JR Smith and his 1943 Boeing Super Stearman. Based in Oceano, JR’s Banner Airways’ yellow bi-plane is a fixture up and down the coast on weekends. It was JR’s idea to offer a highly discounted rate to each of the 30 Lambda Chis present on Saturday for an aerobatic ride. Nearly all of them took him up on his generous offer. College aged kids donate ten plus hours of service and then are treated to a taste of general aviation at one of the most picturesque airports in the country. But don’t take it from me, here are some of the testimonials.
Flying in that plane was hands down one of the craziest things I have ever done. I am mad I have never volunteered at this event before because that was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.–Connor
This was my first time volunteering at the Toys for Tots event. Travis would get up in our chapter meetings and talk about how much fun this event is every year so I was excited to get the chance to volunteer. When we got there and I saw that JR was giving out plane rides I jumped at the opportunity. The experience was awesome and if I had the chance to do it again, I absolutely would. This was my first time volunteering at this event and, based off how much fun I had, I plan on doing it again next year.–Chad [the guy in the video!]
The only time I have ever been to a small airport like that was when our fraternity volunteered at previous Toys for Tots events and I have never been flown in a small plane like that before. In fact, I have only flown in an airplane three times in my life. Initially, I had no intention to fly in the plane with JR, but after every single person that flew raved about how awesome it was, I could not resist. I could not be more happy with my decision to fly with JR, as it was an experience that I will never forget. Regarding the Toys for Tots event itself, we volunteer at the event every year and always have a great time. This is an event that Lambda Chi Alpha plans on volunteering for for many years to come.–Travis
In short, don’t forget the young philanthropists that might be in your hometown. Bring them to your airport. Educate them about its value to the community. Get them in an airplane. Stand back and watch them squeal with childlike delight and end with “That was awesome!” Click to see Lambda Chis Fly High