Teens-In-Flight counts its wings by the pilot: the 13-year-old Palm Coast-based organization, itself a teen now, saw its very first graduate, Gigi Gonzales, become an F-18 pilot after earning a Navy ROTC scholarship through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Juan Rodriguez, a captain in the militrary, is flying helicopters out west. Another graduate just got a job flying with United Airlines. Cora Rand, the second woman to graduate Teens-in-Flight, graduated Embry-Riddle last year and is now an instructor there and for the Palm Coast program, volunteering her time locally.
They’d all joined to get their pilot license free. It would otherwise have cost them around $12,000. It costs the organization closer to $5,000.
“We have nobody affiliated with the organization getting a paycheck, it’s all volunteers,” says Teens-in-Flight founder Jack Howell, the bluntly jovial retired colonel and Palm Coast City Council member who still leads the organization (along with a 24-member board).
It’s an all-volunteer effort but planes must still be fueled (the organization just acquired its second plane last year), stored at a hangar at the Flagler County Airport, rent must be paid (the organization just moved offices, to 120 Airport Rd., the three-story building behind the Chamber of Commerce), and other expenses paid. So Teens-in-Flight is hosting its second annual “Hangar Party” Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Palm Coast Elks Lodge 2709, 53 Old Kings Road North, Palm Coast.
The cost to attend is $59 per person, or $99 per couple.
There’ll be dinner, dancing and an auction. Some of the auction items include a trip to South Africa for a photo safari and several Caribbean Island trips.
“This is our second year for this event, the dinner dance and all that stuff,” Howell said. Last year the event drew 146 people and raised around $28,000. The goal this year is $35,000 and 165 people. “We got a matching grant and we bought our second plane, we paid cash for it. The rest of the money goes directly to paying the gas and maintenance on the aircraft for the flight hours for the kids. Five of those darlings are about ready to get their check ride and their private pilot license any day now.”
Howell created the program as an avenue for children of servicemen and women injured or killed in wars since 2001. It has since expanded to include children of all first responders and at-risk students. All participants go on to college. “so it’s a great investment in our community,” Howell said. Some of the participants’ parents pay their way for the program. Others are on scholarships. Some 15 students are currently enrolled.
Howell, himself an instructor, still logs about 30 hours a year of flying. He also runs the ground school but has “a bunch of certified flight instructors.”
Tickets for the fund-raiser and further information on sponsorships can be obtained by calling Ric Lehman at 904-814-3803, or emailing [email protected]. Dress is resort casual.