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Build it and They Will Come

John Rousch, EAA 647770, Chapter 1240 Young Eagles Coordinator

If you build it, they will come. That is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, “Field of Dreams.”

Recently I was asked to provide some history about our chapter (EAA Chapter 1240, Sebring, Florida) for a magazine article. It was an honor to be asked and it started me on a quest to find out more about our beginnings. We’re not an old chapter compared to many; we formed in 1994 by Aaron Dermid, Ron Owen, and Bill Leftwich. Some of the charter members are still here, others have moved on, and the chapter has grown.

Like many organizations, growth was slow, as a core of folks did much of the work, and original organization was humble. We are still humble and not a large chapter, but one that has grown and is involved in organizing and carrying out aviation events for the community.

One of the first things we as a growing chapter did was to identify our purpose. First, we are individuals who are keen on aviation and like to build and restore aircraft, but we wanted a greater focus. That focus is youth aviation education, working to get more young people involved in flight. The EAA Young Eagles program, providing introductory flights for youth ages 8 to 17, was the perfect vehicle to bring that goal into action, and we were able to fly more than 300 youths in the first three years.

Later on the Eagle Flights program was launched as a way for chapters and members to help adults discover (or rediscover) aviation through an introductory flight in hopes of motivating people to become a pilot. So now we covered age 8 and up. We had the makings of a true family affair!

One member started an aviation/aerospace program at a local high school that brought in many youths and their families. They held pancake breakfasts, assisted with airport open houses, received a youth grant from the local workforce board, and had a project plane donated for a youth project working out of donated T-hangar space.

With all the community participants, the next logical step was to develop a formal partnership to promote youth aviation education. EAA Chapter 1240, the Highlands County School Board, the Heartland Workforce Board, and the Sebring Regional Airport developed an agreement to promote youth aviation education.

Each partner had its own specific agenda but a common overall goal. The EAA chapter wanted to expand its impact in the community, the School Board saw a way to put action to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum, the airport wanted to get more people out to the airport to see what it had to offer, and the Workforce Board saw a way to help develop job skills for the future workforce. That’s a lot of “wins” for all involved.

The partnership was recognized as an innovative approach combining partners that had not previously been combined. That led to a significant amount of regional and community donations and support that moved the chapter to the next level. “If you build it, they will come.”

So we did: EAA Chapter 1240 was able to build a two-story, 60 x 70 foot EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center on the Sebring Airport flightline. The learning center and aircraft project hangar is more than a home for the local EAA chapter; it is a community resource center engaging our community in aviation. The membership and community participation has grown significantly and we have only just begun.

We have brought history alive. Recent offerings included presentations by Tuskegee Airman, Lt. Col. Leo Gray; Col. Rich Graham, a SR-71 Blackbird pilot; and aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff, who shared information about state-of-the-art, high-performance flying and what it takes to become an accomplished air show pilot. Chapter 1240 also hosted the EAA B-17 tour featuring Aluminum Overcast. The chapter helps connect our community with the past, present, and future of aviation.

One of the special qualities of our chapter is how we get things done. Not everyone does everything, but everyone does something and that is what makes it all work. We have fun, enjoy each other’s company, and always know what our purpose is. We built it and they continue to come. Come and see what EAA 1240 might have for you, or visit online at sebringEAA.org.

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