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Program Creates Flight Memories for Special Needs Families, Children
September 17, 2014 - For the past two decades Michigan-based Dreams and Wings has been providing aviation experiences and creating memories for special needs children and their families. It conducts about a half-dozen events annually out of Ann Arbor; Grand Rapids; Port Huron; Flint; and Gary, Indiana; as well as other airports. Each involves about 40 families.
Dreams and Wings is led by Jack Lewis, EAA 410656, of North Branch, Michigan, who lost the use of his legs years ago when a pickup truck fell on him. He learned to fly in a specially configured aircraft and today flies a Piper Warrior with manual rudder controls. He’s also flown more than 1,100 Young Eagle flights.
“We continue to make friends in the general public for general aviation when these wonderful special needs children get to experience the joy and freedom of flight,” he said. “It allows them and their families to see life from a different perspective. And usually it winds up they teach us more than we teach them.”
A recent passenger of Jack’s, 6-year-old Isabelle “Lizzi” McCready, touched his heart. She was referred through the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital for the annual Dreams and Wings Fly Day on September 6 in Ann Arbor.
Lizzi has had a lot to overcome in her young life - she suffered a brain aneurysm at age 4, has undergone numerous medical treatments, has Type 1 diabetes, and recently was diagnosed with celiac disease. Her mother Joy McCready wrote a thank you e-mail to Lewis after Lizzi’s flight.
“Our daughter was so excited to fly for the very first time! She loved every minute of the flight - she didn't want it to ever end. What a blessing it is for us to be able to give our children these remarkable memories and show them that absolutely anything is possible regardless of their physical struggles in life.
“When we can surround her with these types of experiences and with people who have overcome their own challenges, we know that her outlook will be positive and her goals as high as the sky! We cannot thank you enough for this incredible gift you have given to our daughter and so many other children like her.”
Lewis shared the response with EAA headquarters.
“From time to time we have the honor to be touched by a true angel,” he said “Lizzi’s smile and laughter gave new meaning to life beyond struggle. If, in our weaker moments, we ever question why we work so hard to make these events a success and push on year after year, we need look no further than the smiles, the laughter, the love that comes so authentically from these precious angels.
“I know that I am so very blessed to be able to share a moment of these wonderful children’s lives and give them my small gift of seeing their world from a new perspective…perhaps to dream.”
Dreams and Wings has about 24 volunteer pilots on its roster along with about 20 ground volunteers per event. They fly an assortment of airplanes, from Cessnas and Pipers to Mooneys, a King Air, and a twin Seneca. The low-altitude flights include family members as well as the children, last about 20 minutes, and fly a predetermined course. The organization has flown about 6,000 special needs children over the years.
To learn more, visit the Dreams and Wings website.