A father of two small children, volunteer pilot Ori Zaitzman appreciates that his AFW missions can be tailored to fit his busy life. Last summer he flew two young brothers, Jaxon and Jaden, to Lions Wilderness Deaf Camp — a haven where deaf and hard-of-hearing children learn outdoor skills and form invaluable friendships.
“I asked the passengers’ family if they wanted me to bring my puppy,” Ori said. “They were very excited. They have a dog that is deaf, too.”
Jaxon and Jaden, and their two other siblings Jalena and Janika, have become pros at AFW air excursions, having collectively flown 49 times to and from their favorite summer camps over the years. Jaxon, the oldest of the bunch, has flown to camp with our volunteer pilots since 2011 for a total of 19 flights. Recently, he started volunteering as a counselor. It’s a way, he says, to give back to the camps for what they’ve provided for him over the years.
For Ori, the flight with Jaxon and Jaden was just as meaningful for him. “I had never interacted with the deaf community before. It’s one thing to fly someone who has never been in a cockpit, but doing that with a deaf teenager was a great experience.”
Each summer, deaf children ages seven to 15 travel to two unique Lions Wilderness Deaf Camps in California, one in Grass Valley, the other in San Bernardino. In 2022, AFW volunteer pilots flew 22 missions to help young people get to these summer programs where they connect with peers, have fun, and find a deep sense of belonging. “Deaf camp is essential to our children as it’s in their culture and native language,” says parents Heidi and Nathan. “There are not many opportunities for deaf children to attend different summer camps or programs in their language.”
With so many families like Jaxon’s counting the days until camp, we’re counting on people like you to help these kids have a life-changing summer. “All pilots and co-pilots are super friendly and some have even allowed one of our kids to co-pilot the plane, which will always highlight their experience,” adds Heidi. Being surrounded by peers and counselors who share similar circumstances gives campers a sense of belonging, and a rare opportunity to forget about their problems, have fun, and create memories of a lifetime.
We can’t wait to kick off another summer camp season. Your donation helps us continue to arrange donated flights, ensuring every child can make special memories at a weeklong camp created just for them. Click here to support our summer camp fundraiser.