I hit a couple of milestones in my life recently. One was a birthday… and I’ll leave that number for you to wonder about! The second was 25 years with Angel Flight West and that is something I am quite proud of. I started working at AFW as an assistant… it was only 12 hours a week… and I was looking for a little something to do to fill an empty nest. And fill that nest it did! I have been blessed with the miracle of it becoming a 25 year career.
Throughout the time I have been a part of Angel Flight, I have met and made friends with so many special people. Staff, pilots, drivers, office volunteers, board members, medical professionals and passengers – all of whom have touched my life in a way that I will remember forever. From my first days in the office with the small crew of Jim Weaver, Kathy Ezemoli and Susan Connor, I knew this was going to be more than just a part-time job. Over these past 25 years, I have made so many memories that it’s hard to put pen to paper about them all. Some make me smile or laugh at the fun times we had (and even the mischief we may have gotten into (Mary Beth)! Others make me cry due to the terrible losses of passengers and pilots who were dear to me. And other memories are those that helped me grow and succeed in this job.
Mostly, I think about the thousands of passengers who have been helped in ways that were so far out of their reach and how the generosity of our pilots and drivers changed their lives immeasurably.
I remember with fondness Lamar D, who flew out of Inyo-Kern in Southern California to the Santa Monica Airport to go to UCLA for treatment of a lymphoma recurrence. Lamar flew with us on 104 mission legs. While Lamar eventually passed away of complications from his stem cell transplant, his social worker insisted that he would not have even had any chance without AFW getting him to the “golden apple” of treatment at UCLA. Lamar is but one example of a passenger who not only touched my heart – but made me a better person.
I wish I could tell you stories about all of them.
Here are just a few who come to mind:
Mariah S, flying with us for over twenty years now – from a toddler to a beautiful young woman. Gary S., his story of strength in the face of a devastating cancer brought an entire room full of pilots to tears. Taylor T., the little girl on the wing – her win over retinoblastoma when she was just a toddler as well – she is entering college this year. Dustin F. who flew with his mom from Eureka to Loma Linda Medical Center for ongoing treatment of spina bifida, and his mom telling us that Angel Flight allowed them to live in a place they love and still receive the treatment Dusty needed… if you had all day to read this, I could name passenger after passenger who has touched my heart.
I look at the memorabilia and pictures and angels I have in my office, so many of them from passengers, social workers and AFW volunteers – treasures I hold dear to my heart. There are photos on the walls and on my bookshelves of people who are so important to my AFW life. Warren Wood and Skip Armstrong – Board Members and flying buddies – are in a picture looking over my shoulder – both of whom mean the world to me. I think of Paul Jacobs, a board member who mentored me through some really difficult times. Without his support and guidance, it is very possible I wouldn’t still be here at AFW.
My heart hurts with the recent loss of Laura Long to cancer – another board member who was both a friend and a mentor. Steve Bobko-Hillenaar and Rich Conti – more board members who dedicated so much to our mission. And I laugh when I think of some of the long flights I had with frequent flying pilot and board member Steve Danz as we traveled to and from board events. Steve up front with his right seat pilot joking and flying the plane together and choosing great song playlists while laughing at me as I sat in the back reading a book no matter how bumpy the flight was. And Rob Ross who offered me kindness at several times in my life when I really needed it. Wendy and Wendi – their longtime dedication to AFW knows no bounds. Stephan… who is our CTO and has put up with me so many times as we work together to improve our technology… his friendship means the world to me. Kathleen, who has been a friend and confidant from the very beginning! There are so many more who have impacted me. I can’t put them all into this story – but they know who they are and they know how important they are to me.
My “bosses” over the last two plus decades – and I put bosses in quotes – because they have been my bosses – but they have also been my friends and for that I am forever grateful. Jim Weaver for reminding me that I should never stop crying when I tell an Angel Flight story and for so much more. Alan Dias for believing in me and helping me to believe in myself. There is no saying “my bad” or that’s “my two cents” when Alan Dias is your boss – he wants you to have more faith in yourself! And to Josh – who has been my colleague and my friend AND my boss – I treasure all of those relationships – each one has enriched me in a different way. Thank you all!
I can’t name all those who have worked along side me at AFW over these last twenty-five years… there are just too many – but each and everyone brought something different into my life, taught me something, warmed my heart and more – as we maneuvered our way through the trials, tribulations and triumphs that make up my time at Angel Flight.
I hope you can see that AFW has had such an unbelievable impact on my life and on the lives of my family… I don’t know quite when to quit writing… so I’ll end here by saying to each and every one of you – thank you for your generosity and your heart … every minute and every dollar you have given to this amazing organization has been an important part of my journey and I am blessed.
Ciao – Blue Skies – Cheri