|Jean Roberts and her husband, Tom
|David and Laramie Resler
By Barbara A. Schmitz
They come from the East Coast, the West Coast and points in between. But they have one common interest-sharing their love of aviation with youth through EAA's Young Eagles program.
While thousands give of their time to make the Young Eagles program soar, a few have been honored for their extraordinary efforts. This year's winners will receive their awards tonight at the EAA AirVenture Museum's Eagle Hangar.
The 2012 award recipients include:
- Russ Todd, of Cupertino, California, EAA Chapter Coordinator
- Jean Roberts, of Columbia, South Carolina, EAA Ground Support Volunteer
- Dave Howard, of Beresford, South Dakota, 2012 Field Representative Award
- Brian Smith, president of EAA Chapter 1351, of Detroit, Michigan, Humanitarian Award
- David and Laramie Resler, of Churubusco, Indiana, Phillips 66 Leadership Award
"Our program wouldn't be the success it is today without our volunteers," said Michelle Kunes, Young Eagles program administrator. "While this year's award winners are truly outstanding, there are many other thousands of volunteers who give of their time and talents to get young people interested and excited about flying."
Chapter Coordinator Award
Russ Todd started volunteering for the Young Eagles program to make a difference. But that is also what keeps him coming back.
"When I see the kids coming off the airplanes smiling and saying what a great time they had, I know the program makes a difference," Todd said. "I enjoy seeing the kids enabled and empowered."
Todd personally has flown 210 Young Eagles since 2005, and since 2008 has also worked as the Young Eagles chapter coordinator. In that capacity, he promotes Chapter 62's Young Eagles rallies, which are held monthly April through October. That means he helps advertise the events, encourages the pilots and ground volunteers to show up and participate, and takes care of many organizational details.
Todd says it takes a lot of e-mails and reminders, but a core group of about 20 pilots come to each Young Eagles rally.
"The people that volunteer for me are wonderful," he said. "Our events tend to be big, especially when there is an accompanying airport day open house held in conjunction."
Since he became chapter coordinator, Chapter 62 has given 2,988 Young Eagles flights.
Andy Werback, a friend of Todd's, will accept the award in his absence.
Ground Support Volunteer Award
Helpful. Reliable. Committed.
Those words describe Jean Roberts and are part of the reason she was named the top 2012 Ground Support Volunteer.
Roberts has been involved in EAA Chapter 242's Young Eagles program for five-plus years. But she got involved through happenstance.
"We happened to be at the airport when they were flying kids," said Roberts. "It looked like fun, so from that day on, I arranged my schedule so I could be there."
The chapter holds Young Eagles rallies the second Saturday of each month. As a ground volunteer, Roberts meets the parents and children as they arrive, makes sure their paperwork is correctly completed, and then creates a list of youngsters waiting for their flight. Sometimes she'll take parents and children to the waiting plane, and after pictures, escort the parents back to a safe area to wait.
Roberts said she volunteers for Young Eagles because she likes children and helping them and their parents understand the opportunities it presents, such as Sporty's flight training course.
As a child, she became interested in aviation watching B-52s fly over their farm. "My mother was also an aircraft mechanic in the Army Air Corps. I've just always loved to fly."
Field Representative Award
The Young Eagles program was building momentum in 1995 when Dave Howard decided to volunteer.
"I saw it as a program that I could wholeheartedly believe in," Howard said. "I volunteered to be field representative for South Dakota because they didn't have one, and I thought I could make a little bit of a difference."
Howard has made much more than a little bit of a difference. He continues to be field representative today, primarily working with EAA Chapter 292. But throughout the years, he has also helped other chapters start their Young Eagles program or do Young Eagles events.
Since South Dakota has a lot of small cities without their own EAA chapters, Howard said they often take the chapter on the road, bringing the Young Eagles program to other cities.
Holding a flight rally on the road takes a little more work, but no matter where you hold it, you need pilots and ground support volunteers. "But there are some extraordinary people out there," Howard said. "If you challenge them and say this is what you need, it is amazing how many people will pitch in to help."
Howard personally has given 537 Young Eagles flight. "The chance to share that love and make a positive difference in someone's life is pretty huge."
When Brian Smith realized there were fewer African-American pilots today than in World War II, he knew he had to do something.
He started by talking to middle school students about aviation careers, but he didn't just talk. Smith started giving the youths a free airplane ride. However, after learning about EAA's Young Eagles program, Smith realized that it offered benefits that he alone could not - including other pilots who shared a passion for aviation and who wanted to pass that passion on to children.
Ten years ago, Smith started Chapter 1351 with the sole purpose of giving Young Eagles flights, particularly to African-American children in Detroit's inner city. Since then, Chapter 1351 members have given in excess of 2,000 Young Eagles flights. In fact, Smith himself has given 600-plus flights.
But Smith's promotion of aviation doesn't end with the free flight. Through his Tuskegee Airmen Flight Academy, youth can also learn to fly with the academy providing the planes and flight instructors for free.
Smith said he never saw an African-American pilot until he was a grown man. "That's why I never thought it was a career I could do. The students that I mentor know that if Mr. Smith can do it, then they can do it, too."
However, Smith said he couldn't do it without the help of all the chapter volunteers. "They are the people who fly the kids and help to make things happen."
Phillips 66 Leadership Award
It's hard to tell who gets more excited - David and Laramie Resler or the kids they help fly through EAA's Young Eagles program.
The Reslers have been Young Eagles coordinators for Chapter 2 since 2005, and earlier this year, took on those responsibilities for Chapter 37, too. All together, they plan nine Young Eagles events a year.
Because the chapter flies so many children on any given date, it sets up a static display airplane at each rally. So while the kids are waiting for their flight, someone will teach them how an airplane works externally. That frees up more time for the pilots to fly.
While many of their volunteers have been doing it for years, they also created a booklet for new volunteers. The booklet spells out the duties of each volunteer position and makes sure safety is a priority.
The Reslers also spend a lot of time promoting Young Eagles, handing out thousands of business cards that explain the program, as well as publicizing events in the newspaper or on the radio or TV.
Since the Young Eagles program began in 1992, their chapter has flown 6,500 children. Of that number, 3,300 children were flown since the Reslers took over the chapter coordinator duties. David himself has flown 670 Young Eagles since 2005.
"It's really a well-oiled machine, and a lot of credit goes to our volunteers," Laramie said. "They just jump in and do it because they love aviation as much as we do."