WMU News

Aviation college gives disabled kids chance to fly

Sept. 9, 2004

BATTLE CREEK, Mich.--For more than 20 developmentally disabled Battle Creek children, Friday, Sept. 10, will be a chance to literally test their wings.

Western Michigan University's College of Aviation will provide the planes and pilots that will allow students from the Doris Klaussen Development Center to take to the skies as part of a Challenge Air Fly Day set for 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the college's W.K. Kellogg Airport facility. The event is part of a national movement called Challenge Air that is devoted to providing motivational, inspirational and life-changing experiences to physically challenged children and youth through aviation.

In Michigan, the effort has been guided by pilot Jack Lewis of Flint, who will be at WMU for the event. In addition to the flight opportunity for those attending, a variety of aviation talks and activities will be part of the event for the students, whose ages range from 12 to 23. They include presentations by Lewis, Jan Lebovitz of the Federal Aviation Administration and Geraldine Haraz of the Civil Air Patrol. In addition, Jerry Pahl of the Kalamazoo Air Zoo will lead the students in a series of activities on building propellers, kites and soda-straw rockets.

According to Beth Seiler, director of marketing for the college, this is the first time WMU has supplied planes and pilots for the event, although similar events have been held on the campus for several years. This year, college staff members and the University's fleet of training aircraft will be used to supplement the efforts of Lewis, a pilot who has overcome his own disabilities and serves as an example for the students attending.

"The kids who attend these events are so excited to simply be here," Seiler says. "The things we do everyday and take for granted brings huge grins to their faces. In the end, I think we benefit as much as they do from being reminded what a thrill it is to do what we do."

Challenge Air, a Texas-based nonprofit organization, was created in 1995 by Rick Amber, a fighter pilot who lost his legs at the age of 26. Amber once said, "The human spirit prevails over any physical or mental obstacle. After a day with Challenge Air, no height seems unreachable--all it takes is desire and truly, the sky is the limit." Since Amber's death in 1997, Lewis and many other pilots have carried on his belief by providing more than 10,000 children a view from above.

For more information about the Air Challenge Fly Day at WMU or to arrange coverage, contact Seiler at (269) 964-4579.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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